ASEAN: PM favours economic integration

 
“I will discuss with the ASEAN leaders new initiatives to accelerate the process of our engagement in areas such as greater economic integration, people-to-people contacts, agriculture, human resource development, education, science and technology and information and communications technology,” Singh said in a statement before leaving for the Thai city early on Friday.

India and ASEAN signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in goods last August. New Delhi is currently negotiating a similar agreement with the bloc in services and investment.

Major step

Singh said that the FTA in goods was a major first step towards creating an India-ASEAN Regional Trade and Investment Area.

The ASEAN comprises 10 South East Asian nations with a total population of about 600 million people and nominal GDP of about $ 1.7 trillion. India’s trade with ASEAN amounts to about 10 per cent of its global commerce.

Singh said that India-ASEAN trade had been growing “at a healthy rate” and stood at about $ 48 billion in 2008. “The India-ASEAN Summit is an occasion to review the progress in our relations with ASEAN countries. I will inform ASEAN leaders about the several initiatives that India has taken to qualitatively enhance our partnership in diverse areas of our cooperation,” he said.

Singh also stated that India’s enhanced engagement with the ASEAN was at the heart of New Delhi’s ‘Look East’ policy.

Apart from attending the 7th India-ASEAN summit, the Prime Minister will also take part in the 4th East Asia summit on Sunday.

He will interact with the leaders of 10 ASEAN countries, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan and South Korea in the East Asia summit, which will review cooperation in five key areas of energy, education, finance, avian influenza and national disaster mitigation.

“It will provide an opportunity to discuss regional and international issues of common interest, and future direction for community building and cooperation. Asia’s response to the global economic slowdown, food security, energy security and climate change will be important issues of discussion,” Singh said.  He expressed hope that the ASEAN and other countries of the East Asia summit would endorse establishment of the Nalanda University in Bihar as an international institution of excellence in education with a continental focus.

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