There are few places in Southeast Asia that carry as deep an imprint of India’s civilisational links as Bali, a majority Hindu island in a country that has the world’s largest Islamic population.
It was after recognising this ancient relationship that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday launched into forwarding India’s economic agenda, both with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and at the wider 18-member East Asia Summit.
Singh acknowledged that India’s partnership with Asean had “benefited both” and contributed to the “process of integration and transformation of the Asia-Pacific region”, he pointed out in clear terms that India expected the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in services and investment with the regional bloc to be sealed quickly, and put forward a March 2012 deadline.
“I seek your support for the early conclusion of a commercially meaningful Services and Investment Agreement. This would create a positive atmosphere for the implementation of the India-Asean Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement as envisaged in our Framework Agreement of 2003. We should endorse the decision taken at the last round of negotiations in October to conclude the pact by March 2012,” Singh said at the ninth India-Asean summit held in Bali.
Trade between the two entities grew 30 per cent last year, reaching the $50 billion. Singh expressed confidence that the figure would reach $70 billion by 2012, with all Asean member states having now ratified the FTA in goods.
He also noted that India had begun work on developing a long-term strategic partnership with Asean after the preceding years’ summit and had constituted an Asean-India Eminent Persons Group to help charm out an ‘Asean-India Vision 2020’ document.
“India has forwarded a number of cooperative projects as part of this Plan, as well as part of the $50-million Asean-India Cooperation Fund to the Asean Secretariat. We look forward to an early response from the Asean side,” Singh added.
EAST ASIA SUMMIT
After clarifying to his Chinese counterpart that India’s exploration of oil and gas in the South China Sea was “purely a commercial activity”, Singh chose to focus on economic affairs at the East Asia Summit (EAS), a leaders-led forum consisting of the 10 Asean member states and its dialogue partners, including the US, Russia, China, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan.
Outlining the risks to the global economy, specifically those that arose out of the ongoing euro zone crisis, Singh emphasised the urgency of pushing trade and further exchange of investment and services in the region.
“Howsoever complex the task, we should persevere with the project of East Asian economic integration and in our efforts towards a Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia, or CEPEA. India is working actively to integrate with this region,” he said, referring to the pact being worked on by EAS. This pact would be separate from the East Asia Free Trade Area (EAFTA), which comprises all EAS members except India, Australia and New Zealand.
India’s call for continuing attempts for the creation of CEPEA is of significance, especially after US President Barack Obama’s recent push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which also includes four Asean member states.
“We are in the process of finalising a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement with Asean. We have concluded similar agreements with the Republic of Korea, Malaysia and Japan. An agreement is already in place with Singapore. We have commenced negotiations for a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement with Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand,” Singh added.
‘GDP growth to take a hit this year; expected at 7.5%’
With the global economic crisis showing “several signs of stress”, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Saturday India’s growth rate would take a hit this year.
“We have grown at an average of 8.4 per cent in the past five years. Like other countries, we too have slowed down in 2011, but we still expect to grow at around 7.5 per cent. However, none of us can prosper in isolation to the rest of the world,” Singh told world leaders at the East Asia Summit.
He acknowledged Asia’s emerging economies, having weathered the headwinds to some extent, were “growing well” and were, “in fact, contributing to the recovery of the world economy”.