There are many similarities and convergences between us. India and ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) are second and third in terms of population. We are among the largest economies and among the three fastest growing economies in this century. Majority of us here belong to the developing world.
We have the strength and the potential of a young population. In India, 800 million people below the age of 35 years constitute a huge opportunity.
We have embarked on a new economic journey in India. We are emphasising infrastructure, manufacturing, trade, agriculture, skill development, urban renewal, smart cities. Make in India is a new mission. We are placing as much emphasis on ease of doing business in India as we are on making policies attractive. I invite you to this new environment in India. Indian companies are also keep to invest in and trade with ASEAN.
I also assure you that there will be major improvement our trade policy and environment. We will also move ahead with connectivity projects with ASEAN with speed.
I also suggest that we conduct a review of our free trade agreement (FTA) on goods to improve it further and make it beneficial to all. I also urge that the FTA on service and investment be brought into force at the earliest.
Many of you have spoken about the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. It can be a springboard for economic integration and prosperity in the region. However, we should aim for a balanced agreement, which is beneficial to all; and, is truly comprehensive in nature, by equally ambitious agenda with similar timelines for goods and services.
To deepen our connectivity, I am considering establishing, with your co-operation, a special facility or special purpose vehicle to facilitate project financing and quick implementation.
However, in this age, more than physical connectivity, we need Information Highways or i-ways. My experience is that even where road connectivity is poor, we can create vast economic opportunities and employment through i-ways.
India is prepared to provide all assistance and co-operation in this area.
ASEAN and India have large cities and are experiencing urbanisation at a rapid pace. This is both a challenge and opportunity. Come and participate in building India's 100 smart cities and renewal of 500 cities.
Science and technology and education are important areas of cooperation. We should think ambitiously of what we can do in renewal energy and energy efficiency. Let us think of a major ASEAN India Solar Project for research, manufacturing and deployment. Space science can give us benefit in many sectors. We should quickly establish the new India-ASEAN Space-related Ground Station in Vietnam and start the project for upgrading the existing station in Indonesia.
As neighbours, India and ASEAN can gain a lot from cooperation in the disaster risk reduction, response and management. India is prepared to offer full assistance in capacity building, co-ordination and response in the region.
We should further enhance our co-operation in health, including traditional medicine, climate change and environment and forests. Agriculture and food security is another area where I see great potential for co-operation, as some of you have mentioned.
We should move quickly towards mutual recognition of degrees. We should conduct more research and exchanges on our ancient links and how our shared heritage can be of use to the modern world.
Skill development is essential for creating employment opportunities for our youth and for our economic development. We should collaborate by sharing our respective areas expertise in skill development.
I personally lay great emphasis on people-to-people contacts. I would like to see increased contacts between students, youth, teachers, parliamentarians, diplomats, media, farmers, artists and experts. Tourism has not grown the way it should. Today, of course, the ASEAN region is the most popular destination for Indian tourists. I want to see further increase in ASEAN tourists in India. In this, the Buddhist circuit represents a vast opportunity.
Excellencies, we pay a lot of attention to economic prosperity and protecting our environment. Do we pay the same attention to the security and safety of our youth? We have received a high level of security co-operation from ASEAN countries for which I am grateful. But, we should further strengthen our co-operation on countering terrorism, extremism, drugs, arms and money laundering.
Excellencies, Asia's future is bright, but it also faces many challenges. Our progress and prosperity depends on peace and stability in the region.
There is wave of change in the world. New realities are emerging in the changed world. Globalisation is a fact of life. We are all affected by it and we have all benefited from it.
And, in this world, maritime trade and passage, and, therefore, maritime security has become even more important. We all have the responsibility that we all follow international law and norms on maritime issues, as we do in the realm of air passage. In future, we will also need this in space.
For peace and stability in South China Sea, everyone should follow international norms and law. This includes the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. We also hope that you will be able to successfully implement the Guidelines to the 2002 Declaration on Conduct and that the Code of Conduct on South China Sea can be concluded soon on the basis of consensus.
Finally, I would like to say that it is a great privilege to meet all of you here. This has doubled my confidence and enthusiasm about our relations with ASEAN.
I assure you of my sustained personal attention to relations with ASEAN so that we can meet our high expectations from this relationship.