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 Mahamad Rodzi Abdul Ghani
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 Top Indian businessmen back free trade proposal

NEW DELHI, Dec 20 - PRIME Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’sproposal that a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between Malaysia and India beexpedited to boost trade and economic ties was given the "thumbs up" bytop Indian businessmen at a high level forum here yesterday.

"We must now work towards greater economic and trade cooperation whichshould culminate in, and be catalysed by some form of Free Trade Agreementbetween Malaysia and India," the Prime Minister told about 500 businessmenat the Malaysia-India Business Forum.

"I hope that whatever matters decided here would be implemented in aspeedy and concerted manner," he added.

The President of the Federation of Indian Chambers and Industry Y.K. Modiresponded warmly on behalf of the business community to the Prime Minister’s suggestion.

"We all want to be close to Malaysia and taking your suggestion of an FTA,I would go one step forward that we should look at a comprehensiveeconomic cooperation agreement that includes an FTA," he said.

"And we should not wait for the Asean FTA. You (Malaysia) being thelargest trading partner and the gateway to Asean, it is of utmostnecessity that India and Malaysia can sign an agreement," he added.

"I hope during your visit there will be some concrete movements in thisregard and at least a study group can be set up so that quick steps can betaken and businessmen from both sides can have access to each other’smarkets. As you rightly mention, trade will follow investment," Modi said.

The Prime Minister met his Indian counterpart Dr Manmohan Singh and askedhim to "consider positively" Malaysia’s proposal for the FTA, officialssaid.

An Asean-India FTA is targeted for 2010, but Malaysia is keen that abilateral FTA be speeded up with India to enhance trade and investmentlinks in new areas such as IT, biotech, human capital development andinfrastructure development.

Modi on behalf of Indian businessmen, however, candidly informed the PrimeMinister that Indian businessmen, while keen on doing more business withMalaysia, were still concerned about visa issues with Malaysianimmigration authorities.

"Our only hope is that business visas are also made easily availablebecause without visiting Malaysia we cannot see how much more easilybusiness can be transacted," he added.

Abdullah asked the Indian business community to come up with ideas andways to expedite a bilateral FTA.

And he said Malaysia was keen for feedback from them and would come upwith some of its own ideas.

"Then Malaysia will be able to identify immediately the kind of problemsthat are on your mind and also your expectations, the good, the advantagesand disadvantages.

"Let us know and we should be ready to make the kind of steps andadjustments to make our mutual aspirations for an FTA really workable," headded.

The Prime Minister also pushed for closer links between Malaysia andIndian institutions in the field of education and human capitaldevelopment.

"Because of the common language - English - combined research and linkagesbetween our institutions of higher learning can be developed ."

The information communication technology field and biotechnology wereother solid areas for cooperation, he noted.

"I am giving a lot of attention now to the area of biotechnology givenprospects for development of new industries like the pharmaceuticalindustry that offers tremendous potential," he said.

Modi said Malaysian contractors had accomplished themselves well in Indianprojects involving highway building, for example.

India was keen on the growing housing sector which could offer goodopportunities for Malaysian firms in future.

He said the Indian film industry was happy with opportunities to shootfilms in Malaysia, but there were other higher end areas such as animationand television serials that could be developed with Malaysian partners.

Piracy of popular Indian movies was a problem that needed to be arrestedin both countries, he added.

Abdullah witnessed the signing of 12 agreements and memoranda ofunderstanding between Malaysian firms and Indian companies at the end ofthe forum.

Among the key ones signed was a pact between Measat Satellite Systems SdnBhd and Antrix Corp Ltd seeking to set up a joint venture to create aplatform to provide and market extra satellite capacity to customers inIndia, Malaysia and other Asian regions.

Indofocus Sdn Bhd signed an agreement with India Gas Ltd to set up a jointventure to develop infrastructure facilities and undertake procurementwhile Sistem Kompakar Sdn Bhd signed up with Konkan Railway Corp todesign, supply, deliver, install a ticketing and fare collection systemand security surveillance system.

Malaysian Airports Holdings Bhd signed an agreement with HyderabadInternational Airport to provide advisory and technical services to theairport and ASTRO All Asia Networks Plc signed a pact to establish ajoint-venture company and provide content development in Asia.

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