The absence of key agreements on investment and double taxation poses an obstacle to improved economic relations between Hong Kong and India, the country's consul general to the SAR has warned. L.D. Ralte is hoping that his final year as New Delhi's man in Hong Kong will be marked by the signing of agreements on double taxation and investment protection. He said the past year saw two-way trade grow by nearly 40 per cent from 2007 and top US$13billion. 'We are now looking at a timetable for discussing the two agreements. My belief is that once we sit down, there will not be much difficulty in reconciling our two drafts,' he said. 'I firmly believe that the conclusion of these agreements will greatly improve the economic and commercial relationship between India and Hong Kong. We normally serve a three-year tenure, which would take me past the first quarter of next year. My family and I enjoy Hong Kong and the people, so we are not in any hurry to move on. Personally, I would like to see the conclusion of the two pending agreements before I leave.' Nations such as Belgium already enjoy taxation agreements with Hong Kong in which company profits in one country are exempt from the same tax liability in the other jurisdiction. India now ranks as Hong Kong's ninth-largest trading partner after occupying 12th spot in recent years. Indian exports to Hong Kong between January and November last year were worth US7billion, representing growth of 24.6 per cent from the same period the previous year. Of this, goods worth US5.1billion were re-exported to other countries. Indian imports from Hong Kong totalled US$6.2billion, representing a 59.8 per cent increase, with the balance of trade in India's favour to the extent of US$748million, according to official figures. India imported US$536million worth of goods from Hong Kong during last November alone. This included US$325million worth of pearls and precious stones, followed by electrical machinery at US$128million and US$32million worth of goods that fell under the 'nuclear reactor' category. The figures bode well for future relations and Mr Ralte's hopes of securing the bilateral trade and investment agreements, but India's admirable economic growth was marred by terrorism. 'I was on holiday back in India when the pictures of Mumbai started coming in,' Mr Ralte said. 'My first reaction was a recollection of watching the second plane flying into the World Trade Centre in New York. As on that occasion, I got a certain feeling in the gut that combined the feeling of senselessness of the action, the utter disregard for innocent lives and an anger that is hard to place because at the immediate level you are not in a position to take any evasive or retaliatory action. 'Naturally, there was an immediate feeling of despondency in the consulate and anger in the larger community that our country, our people and their innocent friends had been made to suffer. A few families in Hong Kong have relatives and friends, some near, some far, who were affected by the incident. This has brought the matter closer home to those of us here. There is a stronger resolve that the issue of global terrorism needs to be brought to an end, no matter who or where the perpetrators are from.' Mr Ralte said India was looking forward to general elections due in April for seats in the Lok Sabha - India's parliament. 'Our parliamentary elections, termed the largest democratic exercise in the world, have never failed to enthuse both the Indian electorate and the outside observer. So, in a way, could you ask for a better way to commemorate the 60th year of the republic?' the consul general said of the Republic Day celebrations. 'The day itself [January 26] this year coincides with the first day of the Chinese New Year. I am sure many will find this auspicious.' Mr Ralte said it was initially thought that India would escape the worst of the worldwide credit crunch and the corporate scandals seen in the west. But with computer giant Satyam under investigation for fraud, the consul general said many Indian investors felt let down. Nonetheless, the country felt there were plenty of economic and philosophical reasons to be upbeat. 'How fortunate we are to have this thing called hope. Can you imagine where we would be without it after last year's financial fiasco? Well, like everyone else, I hope that no more bad practices ... will scare the markets and economic development any further and that we will soon see stability returning to the markets and financial systems worldwide so that we can all get back to the business of improving the lives of people in our countries. I would put the need for peace at the same level of importance - as without it no meaningful development can take place.'