A Celebratory Summit: India-ASEAN Ties On Growth Trajectory
New Delhi: Its being called a commemorative summit, but it's more of a celebratory gathering. India and the 10-member ASEAN - its neighbours in the southeast - are set to take their ties to a strategic level at a two-day summit beginning a relationship that has been on a growth trajectory for the past 20 years and has witnessed "really no problem areas".
"India-ASEAN relations has seen good growth.. The commemorative summit will see India and ASEAN take their relationship to a higher level," said a senior Indian official.
"What is nice about the relationship is that there really have been no problem areas," the official told IANS.
The ASEAN region is a group of 10 nations - Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam - that is not only of the growth areas of a world hit by economic slowdown but is also the focus of the much talked about .U.S strategic "pivot" to Asia.
Heads of state and government of these countries are in Delhi for the summit.
India became a sectoral dialogue partner of the grouping in 1992 and was elevated to full dialogue partner in 1995 in recognition of the country's rising stature and economic potential. Since 2002, the two sides have been holding annual summits.
ASEAN Economic Minister Chair and Cambodia Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh said in Guwahati that the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and India are set to elevate their ties to a strategic partnership.
The two sides are also set to formally declare conclusion of negotiations for their ambitious free trade agreement (FTA) to liberalise trade in services and investments at the New Delhi summit.
India and ASEAN, which already have a FTA in goods in place, have also targeted a two-way trade of $100 billion by 2015. Currently, trade between India and ASEAN is at $80 billion.
"India-ASEAN trade has witnessed 22 percent growth every year, and last year it saw 37 percent growth, at a time when the rest of the world was grappling with an economic slowdown," the official added.
India and ASEAN commerce officials have been busy working out the details of the FTA in services and investments. A team from the Indian commerce ministry was in Jakarta last week to work out the details, the official said.
The FTA in services and investments will have to be ratified by all the individual countries for it to be set in motion.
India and Asean are also looking at closer cooperation in declaring the region drug-free by 2015. "Asean has declared becoming drug-free by 2015 as its objective. India has supported this, and this is a common area," the official added.
Agriculture and tourism are other major areas the two sides are looking at to boost cooperation.
The two sides have held ministerial level meetings and working groups on boosting agriculture cooperation. A newsletter on agriculture as well as exchange visits of farmers to study each other's farming methods has been launched, the official said. The two sides are also planning cooperation in food security.
"The field of tourism holds excellent promise for cooperation," the official said.
India and ASEAN inked in January this year a MoU on tourism. They have decided to launch a joint website on tourism, which is expected soon. This year, photojournalists, travel writers and media persons were invited to India as part of promoting trade ties.
India's Buddhism circuit holds great potential for boosting ASEAN-India tourism ties, the official added.
Tourist arrivals from ASEAN to India in 2010 stood at 439,000, up from 276,000 in 2009, tourists from India to the 10-member bloc stood at 2.2 million in 2011, up by nearly 10 percent compared to 2010.
India has also inked a visa on arrival with seven of the 10 ASEAN countries.
Cooperation in the field on renewable energy is another promising field. The two sides held their first ministerial meeting on renewable energy cooperation in November. Their space agency heads also held their first meeting this year.
The year 2012 has been an "activity packed" year for both sides, with the car rally and a naval shipping expedition marking increased people-to-people contacts, the official said, adding that the "car rally has seen tremendous response".
The ASEAN-India car rally reached Guwahati on Dec 17 after covering 8,000 km and covering nine ASEAN countries.
"The rally was welcomed in every country it passed through and there was tremendous participation at the government level and by the local people," the official said.
Social media has become an integral part of ASEAN-India relationship and networking, with a lot of blogging and posts by people of the region, especially by members of the Indian Navy Ship (INS) Sudarshini, which is on a mission to touch port base with the ASEAN countries.
Manmohan Singh will hold bilateral talks with the leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia, Lao, Vietnam and Cambodia on the sidelines of the two-day commemorative summit. In November, he had met the leaders of Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Brunei and Myanmar in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.
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