India set to sign free trade agreement with ASEAN
India is set to sign an agreement on free trade in services and investment with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which could enhance trade up to USD 100 billion by 2015.
The 10-member ASEAN block includes Singapore, Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesian, the Philippines Thailand, Laos, and Brunei, who are attending the summit in New Delhi.
Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said the negotiations had been completed successfully but there were some steps to be taken towards signing ceremony.
"No rough edges left for us to address. The negotiations have been completed successfully. Obviously, if you are successful in your negotiations, there is nothing that stops you from signing but obviously there are some steps to be taken towards organising the signing ceremony. Now, it is only the formalities that are left to do, I think the substantive part is over," said Khurshid in New Delhi.
Trade between India and the 10-member ASEAN was up to USD 80 billion last year compared with USD 47 billion in 2008.
"Some of the participating countries have indicated that ASEAN-India trade, which now stands at about USD 80 billion, with out target is USD 100 billion for 2015," added Khurshid.
They vowed to step up cooperation to combat piracy, improve disaster mitigation and maritime security, a move that comes amid tension with China in the potentially oil- and gas-rich South China Sea.
Significantly, they underlined the need for freedom of navigation, a contentious issue because of competing claims with Beijing over parts of the South China Sea, though there was no mention of China in their statement.
"We hope to further co-operation to met traditional and non-traditional challenges, maritime security and freedom of navigation, combat piracy and improve our disaster mitigation in search and rescue capabilities," added Khurshid.
In speeches, the Philippines and Vietnam referred to tensions in their region, but foreign minister sought to distance New Delhi from the wrangling over the South China Sea.
The theme of the summit is 'ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace and Shared Prosperity'.