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India pledges support to ASEAN economic community

By Saroj Mohanty, Bandar Seri Begawan (Brunei), Oct 10 : Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Thursday pledged India's support to an ASEAN economic community in 2015 and a shared secured Asian neighbourhood.


"ASEAN countries...have led the way in cooperation and integration, not only among themselves, but also in the broader region. For India, it is an article of faith of our Look-East policy that ASEAN must remain central to the future evolution of regional mechanisms, which must be open and inclusive.

"We share your vision and aspirations for the region and we applaud your march towards an ASEAN Economic Community in 2015," said the prime minister at the opening of the 11th India-ASEAN Summit here.

All countries, he said, have equal stakes in the security and prosperity of the "shared Asian neighbourhood". The scope of India's engagement with East and Southeast Asia has grown steadily in the last two decades.

"We seek to promote not only mutually beneficial bilateral relations, but also to work institutionally with regional partners and foster a climate that is conducive to stability, security and economic development in our region."

The prime minister also emphasized the growing strategic content in India-ASEAN relations to respond to the common security challenges, which supplemented India's deepening security cooperation with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries bilaterally.

He told the gathering that over two decades, India and ASEAN have established a comprehensive agenda of cooperation and a wide-ranging framework to pursue it. The partnership, which has been elevated to a strategic level, is on the threshold of the third decade of engagement.

And befitting the occasion, he announced that India will soon set up a separate Mission to the ASEAN in Jakarta with a full time resident ambassador. "I hope we will have your full support and cooperation in this endeavour."

India was also ready to sign the India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement on Services and Investment by the end of this year and its early implementation, complimenting the agreement on goods, he said.

He welcomed efforts by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry to revitalize the ASEAN-India Business Council and to set up an ASEAN-India Trade and Investment Centre. These measures will contribute to stronger trade and investment flows between India and the ASEAN.

India-ASEAN trade stood at USD 76 billion last year and a target of USD 100 billion by 2015 and USD 200 billion by 2022 has been set.

The prime minister also emphasized the growing strategic content in India-ASEAN relations to respond to the common security challenges, which supplemented India's deepening security cooperation with ASEAN countries bilaterally.

"I am pleased that India and ASEAN have identified eight focus areas for cooperation on transnational crime and that we are in the process of formulating a work plan to combat international terrorism," he said.

Connectivity is a strategic priority, he said, adding the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway to be completed by 2016 could be extended to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and its further linkage with ports in ASEAN countries and its integration with models like Special Economic Zones.

"This would call for innovative financial and institutional mechanisms. I hope our ministers and officials can discuss these ideas further," he said.

(Saroj Mohanty can be contacted at saroj.m@ians.in)

--IANS (Posted on 10-10-2013)

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