ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
India-Asean agree on services in free trade pact
Addressing the plenary session of the summit, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that the FTA in services and investments “represents a valuable milestone in our relationship”.
Singh said the India-Asean engagement had begun with a strong economic emphasis but has “also become increasingly strategic in its content”.
The PM added that the “political dialogue between the two has grown, our consultations in regional forums have intensified, and our defence and counter-terrorism cooperation have expanded”.
He said the partnership between India and the bloc is important not only historically but because their “future is inter-linked and a stable, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region is crucial for our own progress and prosperity. There is, therefore, mutual benefit in these aspects of our engagement”.
The statement is significant from the point of view of China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea. Many of the Asean nations are also keen to have a code of conduct for the use of the sea, a major maritime trading point.
The South China sea issue, which has been dominating the news of late, was also addressed by the external affairs minister, Salman Khurshid. In response to a query, he said there are some issues like those of sovereignty which should be resolved between the countries concerned. There are better ways than intervention, said Khurshid when asked about Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s remarks that India should play a role in resolving the dispute.
He sought India’s help in settling the dispute on the South China Sea by peaceful means.
Doing something about conflict also means not doing something about it, said Khurshid. In a veiled allusion to China’s increased assertiveness in the South China Sea, leaders of various Southeast Asian countries attending the summit backed freedom of navigation and increased cooperation among Asean countries in the maritime domain.
In the vision statement that was adopted at the summit, the Asean-India countries agreed to greater cooperation in matters of international terrorism as well as maritime security cooperation.
“We are committed to fostering greater security cooperation and information sharing in the form of regular and high-level security dialogues to further address traditional and non-traditional security challenges, including transnational crimes, and strengthening the effective implementation of the Asean-India Joint Declaration for Cooperation to Combat International Terrorism,” the statement said.
“We agree to promote maritime cooperation, including through engagement in the Asean Maritime Forum and its expanded format, to address common challenges on maritime issues, including sea piracy, search and rescue at sea, maritime environment, maritime security, maritime connectivity, freedom of navigation, fisheries, and other areas of cooperation,” added the vision statement.
Asean and India will ink the free trade agreement to liberalise the services and investments sectors next August.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak said the FTA would allow Malaysian companies to increase participation in healthcare, tourism, transportation services, communications and construction sectors.
“Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has expressed satisfaction that Asean and India have agreed to sign the services and investments sectors agreement in August,” Najib told the Malaysian media after a bilateral meeting with Manmohan in New Delhi.
Malaysia is the coordinating country for the FTA, and had successfully concluded FTA for goods in 2010.
Najib was in India to attend the two-day Asean-India Commemorative Summit, which celebrates 20 years of Asean-India relationship.
Najib said India was a strategic partner to Malaysia and cooperation between the two countries could be expanded further.
“Looking at our good relationship from a historical perspective, Malaysia can be a natural gateway to the Asean market, particularly with the signing of this agreement.”
On the bilateral front, Najib said both leaders have agreed to increase the trade target between both the nations to US$20 billion (60 billion ringgit) by 2015.
“Initially, the target was $15 billion (45 billion ringgit) by 2015, but taking into account the encouraging developments, we have agreed to set the target at $20 billion,” he said.
He said that bilateral trade with India had increased by 32.7 per cent to $12.54 billion (37.5 billion ringgit) in 2011 from the previous year.
“To date, the growth this year is 5.6 per cent. Although it is slower, it is a good achievement as the global economy is weak and uncertain.”
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