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PM calls for scale-down of tariffs to ASEAN levels

Our Bureau

New Delhi , Nov. 23

INDIA will have to scale down its tariffs to the levels prevalent in ASEAN countries to facilitate closer co-operation and boost trade ties with the economies of that region as well as of East Asia, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, has said.

Driving home the point that there was no more time to lose on this count, Dr Singh said: "For the last 10 years, successive finance ministers have said our tariff levels should move down and approach ASEAN levels. We have moved a great deal in that direction, but a lot needs to be done still."

At a select gathering after releasing a commemorative stamp to mark the 121st birth anniversary of the late Seth Walchand Hirachand, business and maritime visionary of yesteryears and founder of Hindustan Construction Company Ltd and Hindustan Aircraft Ltd, now the State-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, Dr Singh said: "It is, indeed, one of the saddest chapters of our industrial policy that we failed to build on the foundation established by Walchand Hirachand in this area.

"India has had a rich, maritime history and even an impressive history of shipbuilding. ... Yet few view India today as a major, maritime economy. There has been a neglect of shipbuilding, a neglect of ports, above all, a neglect of foreign trade."

Expressing concern over the neglect on all these fronts, the Prime Minister was confident that now, India was in a position to bring down its tariff to the levels prevailing in the ASEAN countries to boost investments.

"We can accelerate this process now and take steps to enable a closer interaction between our economy and the economies of the ASEAN region," he said.

And for India to emerge as a major maritime power, Dr Singh said the country's infrastructure, mainly its ports and docks, have to be modernised.

"We must modernise our maritime infrastructure. We must also modernise our mindset," he stressed.

Shifting his focus to the growing inequality of development in the country, he said there was no doubt that the less developed regions have to catch up with the more developed.

Urging the political leadership in the less developed states to pay closer attention to the requirement of enterprises to spur growth, the Prime Minister said, "There is no doubt that they need more public investment but there should be no doubt that they also need more local, private enterprise and the consequent growth of the local middle class."

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