The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been slower in responding to India’s proposal to conclude a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in Services, former Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor said here today.

While India had responded to ASEAN’s invitation to a joint trade promoting pact and signed the FTA on Goods with grouping in 2009, the 10-nation group has been “dragging its feet”, he said.

Though the Goods FTA has been good for both India and the ASEAN, it was signed by New Delhi despite objections from the Indian businesses on being disadvantaged under such a trade pact, Tharoor said.

“I have no doubt that the Services FTA remains a priority for our Commerce Ministry and Foreign Ministry,” Tharoor said at the Singapore launch of his latest book “Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st Century“.

“It is a collective negotiation with ASEAN and the fact is that at the moment we have not sensed a great deal of enthusiasm on the part of the ASEAN countries to expedite the process in order to conclude the Services FTA,” he told PTI here after launching the book.

Tharoor, who is a Member of Parliament, said India’s FTA on Goods has worked in favour of the ASEAN producers, and now it was time for ASEAN to give a similar advantage serving pact to India.

He cited an example of how palm oil producers in his state, Kerala, have been hurt by the cheaper imports of the same from ASEAN.

But nevertheless, India concluded the Goods FTA in the spirit of mutual trade promotion.

The ASEAN—India FTA on Goods was signed in Bangkok on August 13, 2009, and implemented from the beginning of January 2010.

The Services FTA would open the skill—short but cash—flush ASEAN markets to professionals from India, including doctors, chartered accountants and lawyers.

It calls for mutual recognition of degrees from Indian universities and the region’s institutions, a diplomatic observer said. –