Customs Union plans free trade agreement with India

By bne IntelliNews October 22, 2013

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The three member states of the Russian-led Customs Unions are due to start preparations for a free trade agreement (FTA) with India after reaching an agreement with the south Asia giant at the 14th India-Russia Annual Summit in Moscow on October 21.

Signing an FTA will improve business ties between India and the Customs Union founded by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. A study group on the planned agreement will now be set up.

"The sides agreed to work towards the creation of a Joint Study Group for studying the possibility of signing a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) between India and the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia," said a joint statement.

The press release followed a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh, according to reports in the Indian press. India has already signed similar agreements with Singapore, South Korea and Japan. However, closer links with Russia and Kazakhstan would help efforts to slake its huge and growing thirst for energy.

The plan to launch talks on an FTA were first announced in April during a meeting between Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and the chairman of the board of the Eurasian Economic Commission, Viktor Khristenko. The opening of the giant Indian market to the Customs Union would be a huge fillip for Moscow, which is in the midst of a bitter fight to persuade several former Soviet states - primarily Ukraine - to join. Kyiv, meanwhile, insists it plans to sign off on a pact with the EU in November.

However, in advance of Putin's meeting with Singh, an Indian government source told the Hindu Business Line that the planned FTA had received some resistance from Kazakhstan. Although Kazakhstan is India's largest trading partner in the Central Asian region, there have been signs of concern in Astana recently over Kazakhstan's trade deficit with its fellow Customs Union members.

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