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India Seeks Early Conclusion Of FTA In Services With ASEAN

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India on 11 July' 2012, strongly pushed for early conclusion of a free trade agreement with ASEAN in services and investment and expansion of communication links with the member states of the 10-nation grouping considered one of the world's fastest growing regions.

Addressing the ASEAN-India Ministerial meeting, India's External Affairs Minister S M Krishna highlighted the growing congruence in India's ties with the bloc and emphasised the need for strengthening private sector participation and encouraging cross-country private-public partnerships in improving connectivity between ASEAN nations and India.

"The story of economic growth in our partnership is meeting expectations despite the global economic downturn.

Two-way trade between ASEAN and India in 2011-12 reached USD 80 billion.

"We believe that the early conclusion of the ASEAN-India Services and Investment Agreements would give a strong fillip to our economic engagement," he told the annual meeting attended by Foreign Ministers and top officials of the ASEAN countries.

India and the ASEAN have already implemented a free trade agreement in goods and are engaged in intense negotiations to widen its base and include services and investments.

The India-ASEAN Trade in Goods (TIG) Agreement was signed in August 2010 after six years of negotiations and it came into force on January 1 last year.

Services and Investments could not be included in that free trade agreement as the two sides failed to reconcile their differences in time and it was decided to have a separate pact on these sectors.

"India's relationship with ASEAN is a key cornerstone of our foreign policy and the foundation of our Look East Policy.

We have attempted to anchor this within the larger context of Asia as an engine for global growth and prosperity," Krishna said.

Seeking expansion of the ties, he said a number of project proposals are being finalised between ASEAN and India through the ASEAN Secretariat, reflecting the "earnest desire" of the two sides to deepen the engagement in diverse sectors.

"Geographic, institutional and people-to-people connectivity, e-linkages, capacity building across sectors, cooperation in frontier areas like space technology, agriculture, energy, environment and biodiversity are some of the areas that I would suggest for particular attention in the months ahead," he said.

Noting that 2012 marks two decades of ASEAN-India Dialogue Partnership, the minister said the Government of India was looking forward to the privilege of welcoming the ASEAN Leaders and Ministers at the special ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in New Delhi from December 20 to 21.

"The Commemorative Summit will present a special opportunity to pronounce together a new era in the ASEAN-India partnership," he said.

"The civilisational strengths and historical linkages between India and ASEAN countries need to be extended further to improve road, sea, rail, digital and people-to-people connectivity in present times. This is an imperative if we are to reinforce the economic foundations in our region for collective progress and prosperity," Krishna said.

The meeting took stock of the entire gamut of India-ASEAN relationship.

A number of countries, including Vietnam and Singapore, also emphasised the need to finalise the FTA with India in services and investment as early as possible.

Highlighting the need for improving connectivity between India and ASEAN nations, Krishna said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has already announced two projects in Myanmar during his visit to the country in May this year, which would help establish connectivity from Moreh in India to Mae Sot in Thailand.

"I understand ASEAN and Indian officials discussed the connectivity agenda further at the ASEAN Land Transport Working Group Meeting last week, which was aimed at establishing connectivity from India to Vietnam via Myanmar and Laos.

"Strengthening private sector participation and cross-country PPP linkages would help further reinforce our collaboration on connectivity," he said.

Krishna said last one year has seen important progress in the ASEAN-India partnership as India became the first Dialogue Partner to sign an MoU on Strengthening Tourism Cooperation with ASEAN countries in January this year.

"Your participation added tremendous value to Delhi Dialogue-IV in New Delhi in February 2012. The Delhi Dialogue has now emerged as a regular calendar event for track 1.5 level interface between ASEAN and India, with the next edition to be held in February 2013," he said.

Elaborating on recent initiatives to further strengthen the ties, Krishna said the first ASEAN-India Network of Think Tank will meet in India on August 7.

"The meeting of Heads of Space Agencies of India and ASEAN countries in Bengaluru in June this year made headway on the proposal for 'Establishment of a Tracking and Data Reception Station and a Data Processing Facility for ASEAN and the Training of ASEAN Personnel in Space Science and Technology," he said.