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Maldives on Saturday said India has initiated efforts to create a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries and deliberations are ongoing for achieving it. They (India) want there to be a Free Trade Agreement with Maldives, in addition to SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Agreement), Minister of Economic Development and Trade Mohamed Saeed told a press conference here.

The Maldives President has offered this opportunity to all countries, Saeed said, adding that the government aims to enter into agreements with as many countries as possible to offer ease in trade activities.

India’s reported effort at seeking an FTA with the Maldives comes in the backdrop of an ongoing diplomatic row between the two countries since November last year when President Muizzu, known for his pro-China leanings, took the oath.

Within hours of his oath, he had demanded the withdrawal of Indian military personnel from his country. The last of the Indian military personnel were replaced by civilians earlier this month.

Meanwhile, the 1981 India and Maldives trade agreement provides for the export of essential commodities. According to the records from the Indian High Commission, growing from modest beginnings, India-Maldives bilateral trade crossed USD 300 million for the first time in 2021, which further crossed the USD 500 million mark in 2022.

Even without an FTA, India has offered concessions on several products to the Maldives, news portal quoted the minister as saying.

Another news portal reported that despite revealing India’s proposal for the FTA, Saeed did not disclose further information about the high-level meeting between him and the Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives Munu Mahawar.

The two had discussed further strengthening the cooperative ties of both nations in multiple areas, the report said.

Describing the past agreements, the portal said Maldives had entered into an FTA with China during former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s administration but his successor, former President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih had criticised the agreement and did not honour it.The Maldives-China FTA breathed new life after Muizzu took charge as Maldives President in November 2023, the said, adding, The incumbent President said the agreement was a symbol of strong relations between the Maldives and China and his administration was ready to continue honouring the agreement.