ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
S'pore calls on India to negotiate full air transport agreement with ASEAN
By Smita Prakash
NEW DELHI: Singapore has called on India to start negotiations on a full air transport agreement with ASEAN that includes passenger services.
Singapore’s Foreign Minister K Shanmugam said such an agreement would expand tourism and business opportunities for India and Southeast Asia.
Mr Shanmugam was speaking at the inaugural lecture of the ASEAN-India Centre in New Delhi.
The Singapore minister's visit to India is seen as yet another step towards improving bilateral ties.
Mr Shanmugam also used the trip as an opportunity to promote closer engagement with ASEAN.
He said: "India, with its cultural, geographical, traditional, historical links, has a very strong role... It can play a strong role in the economic boom that is taking place in ASEAN."
Trade between India and ASEAN increased by more than 40 percent in 2011 following the conclusion of a free trade agreement on goods.
In August, another free trade agreement - on services and investments - is to be signed.
This is expected to take India-ASEAN trade, which now stands at roughly US$80 billion, to US$100 billion by 2015.
But Mr Shanmugam pointed out that more can be done to improve people-to-people interactions and enhance business opportunities.
He said: "But if you look at it in terms of cross flow of people - nearly 700,000 Indians visit Singapore, and a significant number of Singaporeans visit India. Air connectivity, I'm told there are 400 flights a day, and it's not enough. We're seeking to do more... In fact if there's better air connectivity, a lot more can be done."
Improved connectivity, he said, would help boost tourism on both sides.
The Singapore minister's three-day visit also brought him to the archaeological heritage site of Nalanda in the eastern Indian province of Bihar.
Thousands of tourists, especially from Southeast Asia, visit the 11th-century site, where a Buddhist library once existed.
Singapore has pledged to design, build and donate a new library costing some US$7 million at Rajgir near Nalanda, where an ASEAN-sponsored educational institution is going to be built.
Mr Shanmugam said: "It is a signature project and it has got tremendous potential because Nalanda University was the centre of learning 1,500 years ago, in fact older than that, as 1,500 years ago, it was already a very great institution of learning. We play a small role in terms of people in Singapore - well-wishers wanting the project to succeed. They are looking at the library, seeing what can be done, how we can contribute to the success of the project. "
Strengthening economic and political linkages with ASEAN countries is part of India's Look East policy. Most of the government's attention is focused on its immediate neighbours, especially Pakistan, but India remains committed to its relationship with ASEAN, especially Singapore.
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