India eyes trade pact with Eurasia customs union

New Delhi, April 2 (IANS) India, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are exploring the possibilities for a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).

Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and Eurasian Economic Commission chairperson Viktor Khristenko Tuesday agreed to start negotiations for the agreement during a bilateral meeting here.

"India is of the view that the need for CECA with the customs union, comprising Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, is a well established concept. We have expressed our desire to begin the negotiations for it," Sharma said after the meeting.

He suggested setting up a joint study group for the comprehensive economic pact.

"Both sides agreed to discuss the terms of reference for the joint study group, composition of joint study group and fixing the time frames for the submission of the joint study group report in June 2013 when Sharma visits St. Petersburg for the International Economic Forum," India's commerce and industry ministry said in a statement.

It said meetings between ministers from all the concerned countries were being worked out.

Speaking to media persons after the meeting, Khristenko said: "We agreed that a joint study group is required to make an in-depth study to reveal the interests of, and benefits to, all the four countries in this development (CECA).

The ECU has been developing rapidly in recent years as it heads toward the goal of transforming into the Eurasian Economic Union by January 2015.

India already has special political and economic ties with each of the three countries of the ECU, said Khristenko, who was earlier Russia's foreign minister.

"My primary mission here is to inform our strategic partner (India), which should know and understand the opportunities offered by this enlarging market represented by the Eurasian Customs Union and the Eurasian Economic Community," he said.

India's total trade with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan increased to $7.43 billion in 2012 from $6.54 billion in the previous year.