It's not only the extended trading hours, brought in this month at the Mumbai Stock Exchange, that signify no turning back the clock for India. India's Consul General to Hong Kong, L.D. Ralte, smiles wryly as he admits the time is up on meeting a target he set when he took up office here three years ago. 'We're so close to the double taxation deal - but it's at the negotiation stage with Hong Kong updating laws because of new OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] tax regulations. So it looks like my successor is likely to get the glory for that,' Ralte says, as he tells how his goal of sealing this bilateral agreement between New Delhi and Hong Kong has been slowed up. The reason being, Hong Kong is preparing to comply with the OECD's new standards on offshore tax havens. Ralte's efforts were also foiled by red tape on the Indian side. 'Our tax laws only allowed agreements with a sovereign state, but this was changed to economic entities.' The double taxation agreement will allow Indian and Hong Kong businesses to be exempt from paying tax twice on the same income in each other's jurisdictions. 'Even the Swiss government signed some form of agreement with us,' says the consul general, who adds that such bilateral agreements will see greater two-way investment. Following an impressive 2008, bilateral trade for the first quarter of last year was just over US$4 billion, a fall of 20.7 per cent over the same period the previous year, according to Indian consulate figures. Indian exports for the first quarter were valued at just over US$2 billion, a decline of 27 per cent. Of this, goods worth US$1.7 billion were re-exported. The balance of trade was in India's favour to the extent of US$5 million, while India retained its position as Hong Kong's ninth largest trading partner for the second year running, the consulate reports. Topping the list of Indian exports were pearls and precious stones valued from January to May of last year at just over US$2 billion. 'Trading certainly suffered, particularly diamonds,' Ralte says. 'But those traders who targeted emerging markets in Latin America and Eastern Europe fared better and were not hit as badly as those [who concentrated on] big markets. Toys and games took a particular hit as well, but there is confidence that it will pick up.' If achieving the tax agreement eludes Ralte, the envoy is nonetheless pleased at the increase in the number of business visas being issued through the consulate. During busy periods, about 230 visas a day are being issued, and he says this goes down to about 180 at non-peak times, roughly divided between business and tourism visas. 'We are allowed to grant five-year multiple visas to Hong Kong business people, while the United States and British [passport holders] get 10-year multiple entries,' he says. 'There is visa on arrival for a few selected countries but, overall, travel to India is made easier.' He says the good news on the visa front has been tempered by more restrictions due to security concerns. He has been called on to intervene and speed-up cases in which senior executives in banking and finance have needed visas for urgent business trips, but their applications have been halted because of tightened security. On the cultural front, the rise in local interest in Indian dance will be catered to when a classical troupe performs in Tsim Sha Tsui at the end of the month. 'We've decided to take it to the people and try a venue somewhere different so everybody could go and it's held early enough for children to attend,' Ralte says. This year will also see the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between India and China. Republic Day itself will be marked at 9am by a flag-raising ceremony at 22 Black's Link, on the Link Estate.