Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today arrived here on a two-day visit during which he will hold talks with his Thai counterpart Yingluck Shinawatra to outline the framework of a Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement and elevate bilateral ties into a "strategic partnership".
Singh arrived here after ending his three-day visit to Tokyo that saw India and Japan reaffirming the importance of civil nuclear cooperation, while recognising that nuclear safety is a priority for both governments.
A high-level delegation also accompanying him on the trip to reinforce India's "Look East" policy, recognising Thailand as a key gateway to the ASEAN region and seeking to elevate bilateral ties into a "strategic partnership".
"During the visit, the two sides will outline the framework of a Thailand-India comprehensive free-trade agreement in order to reach a conclusion, perhaps by this year," Indian Ambassador to Thailand Anil Wadhwa told Nation newspaper in an interview.
The previous talks in New Delhi last November made some progress, but the major task to overcome is to fine-tune how to open access to both countries' service sectors, he said.
An early harvest scheme of the free-trade agreement, with tariff exemption for 84 items of goods, has been in force since January 2010, resulting in a high-level of bilateral trade. Two-way trade between the two countries reached USD 9.2 billion in 2012-13.
Ahead of Singh's visit, the Thai Foreign Ministry said the bilateral meeting "reflects the desire of the two sides to elevate Thai-Indian relations to a strategic partnership, as announced in January last year."
Frequent exchanges of high-level bilateral visits reflect the closer relations between the two nations as well as the 'Look West' policy of Thailand and 'Look East' policy of India respectively, it said in a statement.
During the visit, a slew of MoUs covering space, extradition, IT, education, financial intelligence units to check money laundering are expected to be inked.
Besides, issues like geo-politics, the trilateral highway project involving India, Thailand and Myanmar, defence, science and technology, education and culture, will be discussed by Singh with his Thai counterpart.
His visit to Thailand will be the first by an Indian premier after the 2004 visit by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, Pulok Chatterjee, Principal Secretary to Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai and other senior officials are accompanying Singh. The Thai-backed Dawei special economic zone in Myanmar will be another topic of discussion between the two premiers exploring possibilities for cooperation from New Delhi, as Thailand wants to promote the project to connect India and ASEAN countries.
"We expect that the Dawei project will emerge as a major regional logistic hub and open shorter and quicker sea routes to major Indian ports such as Chennai, Vishakhapatnam and Kolkata," Wadhwa said.
The project would also open business opportunities for the region and Indian infrastructure companies were interested in participating in the development.
The Dawei project is part of a logistical link Thailand offered to help fulfil India's Look East policy. The policy was launched in 1991 to cultivate extensive economic and strategic relations with Southeast Asia, but has not yet become tangible, the paper said.