China eases India concerns over Maldives FTA
China moved quickly to shoot down concerns over the imminent free trade agreement with the Maldives, especially from the archipelago's neighbour India.
An article on China's hyper-nationalistic newspaper 'Global Times' which largely accused of being the mouthpiece of the Chinese government said India should not be overly nervous about the agreement insisting that the economic cooperation between China and the Maldives does not target any third party, India included.
Speaker Abdulla Maseeh had called in an emergency parliament session on Wednesday to accept the agreement before immediately sending it for the national security committee for review. The committee also with government majority had signed off on the agreement in less than 10 minutes sparking opposition outrage and concern saying that lawmakers "had not even seen the actual agreement."
Thirty lawmakers present during the late Wednesday sitting voted in favour of signing the agreement, with most government MPs echoing the benefits of the pact to the archipelago with of course no opposition lawmaker present.
The Maldives' fast-tracking of the FTA with China was understandably widely reported in the Indian media saying that Sino-Maldivian trade balance remains considerably in favour of China, and there are concerns that the FTA will further increase the deficit and push Maldives towards a debt trap like Sri Lanka -- an issue that has alarmed Delhi amid apprehensions of neighbourhood plunging into economic crisis in future.
However, the article perceived to be Beijing's message to India said the expeditious signing of the trade pact only signifies that the two countries urgently hope to tap the potential for cooperation due to their economic complementarity.
Noting that China remains the largest source of tourists to the luxury tropical island destination, the article stressed that "it is understandable that the Maldivian government resorts to signing an FTA to further attract Chinese tourists by making inexpensive Chinese goods such as instant noodles available on the Maldivian market."
The article went on to deny any political intrigue in the deal between China and Maldives insisting that the FTA with China is likely to further boost economic ties and bring tangible benefits to Maldivian importers and exporters.
"Although New Delhi has a certain influence on the Maldives, if India wants to prevent the island country from seeking closer economic cooperation with its largest source of tourists, India will do nothing but upset itself," the article warned.
"It won't be easy for India to maintain its political influence in South Asia if its own economic presence is weakening. If India thinks its position is threatened, it should consider how it can give more benefits to its neighbors through win-win economic cooperation."
Maldives and China entered into free trade talks in 2014 and had held multiple rounds of discussions. Maldives is seeking tax exemption from all food and seafood products exported from the archipelago to China, which according to the government includes over 400 local products currently in the market.
Government had assured that the agreement would favour the Maldives and would provide a huge boost to the Maldives highlighting the fisheries sector as the primary beneficiary.
"The door has been opened to export our fish products to the largest consumer market in the world on zero percent [duty]," economic minister Mohamed Saeed told reporters after the cabinet gave the go ahead to sign the agreement earlier Wednesday.
"The door has been opened to export our fish products to the largest consumer market in the world on zero percent [duty]," Saeed enthused.
The minister insisted that the agreement has been designed to favour the Maldives more than China.
"... this could very well be the first time in history that such a large market has agree to deal with a small country and that too to largely favour and benefit us," he added.