India rejects Maldivian minister’s claim that New Delhi has proposed FTA | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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India rejects Maldivian minister’s claim that New Delhi has proposed FTA

May 30, 2024 10:18 PM IST

Maldivian minister Mohamed Saeed, said on May 25 that New Delhi wanted to ink a free trade agreement with Maldives in addition to SAFTA

NEW DELHI: India on Thursday dismissed a Maldivian minister’s claim that New Delhi proposed a free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries but said that it would be open to considering such a trade deal.

Mohamed Saeed (right) statement came against the backdrop of strained ties between India and the Maldives ever since President Mohamed Muizzu (left) came to power in Male last year (X/em_saeed)
Mohamed Saeed (right) statement came against the backdrop of strained ties between India and the Maldives ever since President Mohamed Muizzu (left) came to power in Male last year (X/em_saeed)

Mohamed Saeed, the economic development and trade minister of the Maldives, told a news conference in Male on May 25 that India wanted to ink a free trade agreement with the Indian Ocean archipelago. This, Saeed said, would be in addition to the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA).

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The development came against the backdrop of strained ties between India and the Maldives ever since President Mohamed Muizzu came to power in Male last year and took a range of steps to move his country closer to China. Following a demand by Muizzu, India recently pulled out some 85 military personnel stationed in the Maldives to operate two helicopters and an aircraft and replaced them with civilian experts.

When external affairs ministry spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal was asked about the Maldivian trade minister’s claim regarding the trade deal at a regular media briefing, he replied: “No specific proposal for a bilateral FTA with the Maldives has been made by the Government of India.”

If the Maldivian government “expresses interest in having an FTA with India, we will give it due consideration”, Jaiswal said.

People familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity that the Maldivian side had raised the issue of an FTA with India because it was preparing to operationalise a trade deal signed with China in December 2017.

The trade deal with Beijing was signed during the term of Maldivian president Abdulla Yameen, who too had sought to take his country closer to China.

However, Yameen’s successor, Ibrahim Solih, whose government adopted an “India First” policy, blocked the implementation of the FTA with China. Following the election of Muizzu, Male again initiated steps to implement the trade deal.

During Maldivian foreign minister Moosa Zameer’s visit to India earlier this month, external affairs minister S Jaishankar told him that “mutual interests and reciprocal sensitivity” should form the basis of bilateral ties.

One of the people cited above said: “It was conveyed to the Maldivian side that irrespective of their stance towards other countries, they should be very clear about how they intend to handle their ties with India.”

The Maldivian side was also informed that constant criticism of India and its leadership would not be conducive to the forging of better relations, the people said.

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