Citing global economic downturn to push for greater India-ASEAN cooperation, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today pitched for conclusion of a "commercially-meaningful" Services and Investment pact by March 2012 to create a positive atmosphere for implementation of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement. Addressing the India-ASEAN Summit here, Singh also highlighted the need for greater connectivity and cooperation on security issues, including maritime security, counter-terrorism, training, exercises and disaster management.
"Our partnership with ASEAN is one of the cornerstones of our foreign policy, and the foundation of our 'Look East' Policy," he said at the annual Summit. Talking about various elements of engagement between India and the 10-nation grouping of Association of South East Asian Nations, Singh said, "I believe that our cooperation is on the right path. Given the global economic downturn, there is today an even greater urgency to our cooperation."
He referred to trade and economic front and noted that the India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement for Trade in Goods has come into effect in all ASEAN member states and India following its ratification by Cambodia in August this year.
"I seek your support for the early conclusion of a commercially-meaningful Services and Investment Agreement. This would create a positive atmosphere for the implementation of the India-ASEAN Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement as envisaged in our Framework Agreement of 2003," the Prime Minister told the Summit leaders.
"We should endorse the decision taken at the last round of negotiations in October 2011 to conclude the Agreement by March 2012," he added. India's trade with ASEAN has increased by 30 per cent in 2010-2011 and has crossed the USD 50 billion mark.
"With such a rate of growth we should be able to achieve our trade target of 70 billion US dollar by 2012," the Prime Minister said. Pushing for greater physical connectivity between India and ASEAN, Singh said it "remains our strategic objective".
There are several proposals under consideration with regard to land and sea connectivity, which include the India-Myanmar-Thailand Highway, its extension to Laos and Cambodia and the development of a new highway also linking Vietnam.
A study has also been conducted on a Mekong-India Economic Corridor by the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia which proposes linking of corridors in the peninsular, and possibly the north east areas of India with the East Asian region.
"I would suggest that all these different proposals should be studied in an integrated manner by our officials so that we take considered decisions to optimise our resources and efforts," Singh said. Referring to the other elements of engagement, he said India welcomes the growing cooperation with ASEAN on security issues, and "our association with ASEAN-led forums. These have focused on maritime security, counter-terrorism, training, exercises and disaster management."
He recalled that at the last Summit, India and ASEAN had agreed on developing a long-term vision for the strategic partnership between the two sides. "We have taken the first step in this direction by constituting the ASEAN-India Eminent Persons Group," Singh said, noting that it had been tasked to draft an ASEAN-India Vision 2020 document.
The successful implementation of the ASEAN-India Plan of Action for 2004-2010 listing specific items of cooperation was followed by an 82-point Plan of Action for the period 2010-2015, Singh said about the ambitious document adopted at the Hanoi Summit last year. India has forwarded a number of cooperative projects as part of this plan as well as part of the USD 50 million ASEAN-India Cooperation Fund to the ASEAN Secretariat.
"We look forward to an early response from the ASEAN side," Singh said. Referring to the expansion of India-ASEAN cooperation in the fields of science and technology, space and information technology, he said several projects were under implementation under the ASEAN-India Science and Technology Fund. Based on the feedback from the ASEAN, India's Department of Space has revised its proposal for a five-year project for establishing a tracking and reception station and data processing facility for the ASEAN countries and training of ASEAN personnel.
India will convene a meeting of heads of space agencies of India and ASEAN in early 2012, the Prime Minister informed. He also talked about India's offer to assist in the Master Plan on ASEAN ICT Connectivity and in particular on the establishment of an e-network in the CLMV countries – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam – for tele-medicine and tele-education. With regard to initiatives for people-to-people exchanges, Singh invited ASEAN countries to participate actively in the Nalanda University project on which work has begun.
On visa front, Singh said visa-on-arrival facility for six ASEAN countries was now in place. "We should ensure that the Memorandum of Understanding on strengthening tourism cooperation between ASEAN and India is signed at the earliest, preferably at the meeting of the ASEAN-India Tourism Ministers planned to be held in Indonesia in early 2012," he said. India hosted a group of 100 students from ASEAN countries in September 2011, he said, adding based on the positive feedback, India will increase this number to 250 students per year.
He also said that India wished to institutionalise the ASEAN-India Media Exchange Programme for a period of three years. Under this, India will be ready to host two groups of 20 ASEAN journalists each year and ASEAN countries could in turn consider hosting Indian journalists to ASEAN Member States. Announcing that India proposes to hold ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit on December 20-21 next year, the Prime Minister extended personal invitation to the leaders of all ASEAN member countries to attend it.
"This will be a historic occasion for us." He said that in the run-up to the Summit, India proposes to hold the fourth round of the Delhi Dialogue in February 2012 and meetings of the ASEAN-India Ministers for New and Renewable Energy and Agriculture as well as an India-ASEAN Business Fair besides a year-long calendar of cultural activities.
India also proposes to organise the India-ASEAN Car Rally to mark the Summit. The rally will serve to highlight the strong bonds between ASEAN and India, and spread the message of solidarity, enterprise and creativity "which are the hallmarks of our region," Singh said. India also proposes to send a Sail Training Ship "Sudarshini" on an expedition to ASEAN countries along the route of the monsoon trade winds.