India has been complaining about the reluctance of the government to open up its services market during recent negotiations in Indonesia for the proposed India-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) free trade agreement.

Indian officials met with top executives of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to bring up the country’s refusal to make any meaningful offer to open up its services market to Indian professionals.

India’s Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma held a bilateral meeting with Trade and Industry Secretary Gregory Domingo to seek a wider opening in the local service industry, according to the Economic Times.

Domingo, however, said the country needed to protect its services sector as it was vulnerable and the country’s laws did not allow opening of the sector.

The India-Asean free trade agreement in goods started last year but India said most of the Asean countries including the Philippines is making it hard to sign a services and investments agreement. India is tageting the local information technology, healthcare, education and other professional services in Asean countries.

At the meeting, Sharma told Domingo the revised offer given by the Philippines for opening up its services sector was not acceptable since it was not commensurate with its economic status.

Sharma also asked other Asean members to improve their offers and go beyond what had been put on the table at the World Trade Organization, or the WTO.

Bilateral trade between the Asean and India jumped 24 percent in 2010 to $51.3 billion. India’s exports grew at 33 percent to $23.1 billion while imports from the Asean increased by 18 percent to $28.2 billion. Foreign direct investments (FDI) inflows from the Asean touched $14.25 billion in May 2011 and accounted for 10.36 percent of India’s total FDI.

India is negotiating bilateral deals with individual Asean countries to gain access into the Asean services market. It already has a deal with Singapore and Malaysia and is negotiating ones with Indonesia and Thailand. The Asean includes Brunei, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines.

The Philippines had taken the top spot in the region in the latest quarterly Antal Global Snapshot recruitment survey.

The survey, which carried out research in 12,875 companies in 47 countries, showed that Asia-Pacific has overtaken the Americas this quarter, taking the lead in the highest level of hiring activity with 64 percent of businesses in the region currently hiring managerial and professional staff.

But it is the hiring boom in the Philippines that has pulled Asia-Pacific to the top: 98 percent of companies there are currently hiring, and this is coupled with one of the lowest firing rates worldwide (3 percent).

“This is due in part to the elections back in May 2010, which has consequently boosted confidence in the economy and, in turn, hiring,” said Tony Goodwin, chief executive of Antal International.

He added that with a 6 percent inflation rate, China is no longer the cheapest manufacturing destination and as a result, many companies have turned to the Philippines as one of several cheaper alternatives for low-cost manufacturing. –Ayen Infante, Daily Tribune