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Indian PM Visits Thailand to Boost Bilateral Economic Growth - 2003-10-09

Thailand and India are looking to boost trade and economic relations during a three-day official visit to Bangkok by India's Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Thailand and India signed a framework free-trade agreement Thursday marking another step in New Delhi's strategy to boost external business relations with its Southeast Asian trading partners.

The free trade agreement, together with pacts covering tourism, agriculture and science, were signed during meetings in Bangkok between Mre. Atal Bihari Mr. Vajpayee and Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The agreements come amid a rapid expansion in trade in recent years as India embraces economic liberalization as the key to its economic growth. India's trade with Southeast Asia has increased from just $2.9 billion in 1993 to almost $10 billion by 2001.

India's Ambassador to Thailand Leela K. Ponappa, says the trade agreement, with significant tariff reductions on a wide range of industrial and agricultural products, will provide a boost to trade in the coming years.

"India-Thailand trade is currently about $1 billion a year, and we hope with the institution of an early harvest package and the facilities of the mutual reduction of tariffs we will see significant growth," he said.

Since the 1990s India has undertaken a "look east" economic strategy with bilateral trade focused on expanding trade in computers, chemicals, fuel and automobiles.

Both countries are also members of a regional economic cooperation framework that also includes Bangladesh, Burma, and Sri Lanka.

In addition to the signing of the free-trade agreement, Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Thaksin addressed concerns over regional terrorism.

While no details were made available from the talks, Mrs. Ponappa told VOA measures to combat regional terrorism were being raised.

"Now in terms of the situation that is publicy known in Southeast Asia, the kind of nexus that exists between terrorist elements across continents is something that we would look to work with our friends in terms of putting in place administrative, legal and other measures in terms of cooperation to combat such terrorism," she said.

Mr. Vajpayee also addressed the Thai parliament Thursday - a rare honor for international visitors - and later was to meet with members of Bangkok's Indian and Thai business communities.

Any expansion of trade with India will complement Thailand's already strengthening business links with China, which is the other key economy driving growth and expansion in Asia.