Manmohan Singh announces five key initiatives for boosting India-ASEAN ties

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Hua Hin (Thailand), Oct. 24 (ANI): Emphasizing India's engagement with the ASEAN countries as a key element of his country's vision of an Asian economic community that is based on an open and inclusive architecture, visiting Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, on Saturday said New Delhi wishes to partner ASEAN in realizing this vision for mutual benefit, mutual prosperity and mutual respect.

Addressing the Seventh India-ASEAN Summit here, Dr. Singh described the ASEAN region as being synonymous with dynamic economic growth.

"The adoption of the ASEAN Charter in December 2008 is a manifestation of the growing profile of ASEAN in world affairs. We warmly welcome this important development. India's engagement with the ASEAN is at the heart of our Look East Policy. We are convinced that India's future and our economic interests are best served by greater integration with our Asian partners," Dr. Singh said in his address.

Lauding the conclusion of the India-ASEAN Trade-in-Goods Agreement in August 2009 as a major first step "in our objective of creating an India-ASEAN Regional Trade and Investment Area," Singh said the journey towards it was not easy, and having succeeded in overcoming several difficulties, it gave hope for the future.

He also welcomed the healthy growth of India-ASEAN trade despite the recent global economic downturn.

He said that the volume of trade stood at 48 billion US dollars in 2008.

"Despite the economic downturn, I am confident that we can achieve our bilateral trade target of 50 billion US dollars by 2010. With the conclusion of the Trade-in-Goods Agreement, we should aim for an even higher target for our trade turnover," he added.

He also said that India attached high importance to the early conclusion of negotiations on the Trade-in-Services and Investment Agreement.

"I am happy to note that there has been good progress on all other initiatives that have been taken by us, including those discussed at the last Summit in Singapore in 2007. These include the creation of an India-ASEAN Science and Technology Fund, the India-ASEAN Health Care Initiative, cooperation in traditional medicines, the India-ASEAN Network on Climate Change and the establishment of a Green Fund. Several programmes to promote people-to-people contacts are also being implemented. We look forward to working closely with the ASEAN and other countries of the East Asia Summit process to establish the Nalanda University as an international institution of excellence in education with a continental focus," Singh said.

In keeping with the theme of the ASEAN Summit of "Enhancing Connectivity, Empowering Peoples", Dr. Singh proposed five initiatives to further strengthen links between India and ASEAN:

Establishment of an India-ASEAN Round Table comprising think tanks, policy makers, scholars, media and business representatives to bridge the knowledge gap. The Round Table would provide policy inputs to the governments of India and the ASEAN countries on future areas of cooperation.

Intensification of negotiations on an open skies policy, further simplification of the visa regime to encourage business and tourist travel, a much larger number of youth exchange programmes, and commencement of exchanges of Parliamentarians between India and the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly.

Holding an ASEAN Trade and Industrial Exhibition in India in October 2010 or January 2011.

Enhanced cooperation in the agriculture sector with a view to meeting the challenges of food security. The forthcoming meeting of our Agriculture Ministries in 2010 in India should identify specific areas of cooperation, including in extension services.

Cooperation in the application of space technologies. We would be ready to share satellite data for management of natural disasters, launch small satellites and scientific instruments and payloads for experiments in remote sensing and communication for space agencies and academic institutions in ASEAN countries.

He also said that India has been privileged to be a partner in the "Initiative for ASEAN Integration" Programme.

"We have been involved in projects for skills upgradation such as Entrepreneurship Development Centres and Centres for English Language Learning in Cambodia, Myanmar, Lao Peoples Democratic Republic and Vietnam. We would be happy to increase the number of such Centres.

In addition, he said, India would be happy to participate in projects under the ASEAN's Work Plan for 2009-2015 in areas such as education, energy, agriculture and forestry, and small and medium enterprises.

Welcoming ASEAN's plans to develop an ASEAN ICT Master Plan for the period 2010-2015, he said India would be happy to offer its services for the realization of this Plan, and to assist in the creation of an e-network in ASEAN which could ultimately be linked up with select Indian institutions in diverse areas.

"To support all these initiatives, we are ready to allocate up to 50 million US dollars during the period of the ASEAN Work Plan under the ASEAN-India Cooperation Fund and the ASEAN Development Fund," he said.

In 2012, we will be commemorating the 10th anniversary of India's participation as a summit level partner of ASEAN, and 20 years as a sectoral dialogue partner. These are significant milestones, and deserve careful preparation.

We could jointly consider organising a commemorative ship expedition in 2011-12 on the sea routes developed during the 10th to 12th centuries linking India with South East Asia and East Asia. The sea route could cover modern and ancient ports in ASEAN countries, and other East Asian countries.

India, he said would be privileged to host the India-ASEAN Summit meeting in 2012 in India.

"To ensure a substantive outcome, I would further propose that we set up a Joint Task Force to prepare a Vision Statement for India-ASEAN relations upto the year 2020. This should take into account the growing strengths of both the ASEAN countries and India and how we can jointly harness our complementarities and contribute to a more peaceful and prosperous Asia," he said.

"Given the steadily expanding range of our cooperation it is important that we put in place effective monitoring and follow-up mechanisms to ensure the effective implementation of the decisions that we take," Singh added.

He thanked the Prime Minister of Thailand, Abhisit Vejjajiva for hosting the 7th India-ASEAN Summit and Indonesia for serving as the Coordinator for India. He also welcomed Cambodia as the next Coordinator, and assured it of India's full support. (ANI)

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