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Special Address by Secretary (East) at ASEAN India Network of Think Tanks meeting (August 26, 2014)

August 26, 2014

Director General of the Viet Nam Academy of Social Sciences, Prof. Dr. Ngo Xuan Binh,

Vice Chairman of RIS & ASEAN-India Centre, Amb. V.S. Seshadri, Senior Coordinator ASEAN India Centre Dr. Prabir De, Amb. Rastam Mohamed Isa from ISIS Malaysia who is partnering Delhi Dialogue VII,

Distinguished Speakers and Panelists,

Representatives of Think Tanks from ASEAN countries and the ASEAN-India Centre, Ladies & Gentlemen

  • It is my pleasure to share my thoughts with you today on some key aspects of the ASEAN India strategic partnership. You have already heard the External Affairs Minister of India yesterday on her priorities for this important relationship and the qualitative momentum that she would look to bring, together with the ASEAN Foreign Ministers, to specific issues on the agenda.
  • Let me begin, therefore, by reiterating that the relationship with the ASEAN countries continues to be the foundation of India's Look East Policy. We see it as a strategic partnership with implications for the ASEAN India region, its integrated economic space and its 1.8 billion people. We also agree with our ASEAN friends on its relevance as an anchor of peace and stability in East Asia and the contribution that we can bring collectively to issues on the global agenda.
  • Looking ahead, we would continue our support to the objective of an ASEAN Community by 2015, the Initiative for ASEAN Integration for Narrowing the Development Gap and the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity. We have a strong foundation to our partnership across the three pillars of political-security, economic and socio-development cooperation.
  • India is partnering the ASEAN countries in the negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. We have common objectives relating to enhancement of our production and manufacturing networks, the strengthening of our financial systems, the eradication of poverty, sustaining self-sufficiency in agricultural production and enhancing the availability of educational and employment opportunities for our youth.
  • The FTA on Trade in Goods, which we signed in 2009, has helped to bring about steady increase in trade volumes between ASEAN and India. It now stands at USD 76 billion annually and we are pursuing a target of USD 100 billion by 2015. There is a trade imbalance in favour of the ASEAN but that sometimes comes naturally. This will be discussed at the meeting between ASEAN Economic Ministers and their Indian counterpart in Nay Pyi Taw. I hope that you will be able to discuss practical ways in which ASEAN and India can take advantage of this new FTA to increase jobs, standards of life, industrial and economic capacities and opportunities for partnership. For instance, if each of you looks at what the FTA in Services & Investment can do for your respective countries, you would be able to write out the formulae and the equations that we, as Officials, need to implement on the ground.
  • A key dimension to economic cooperation and integration will be the re-energizing of the ASEAN India Business Council and the ASEAN India Business Fair, which is to have annual regularity. We saw the utility of these mechanisms in 2011 and 2012 when India hosted them. We should now look at these being hosted in an ASEAN country. Malaysia has already established a Secretariat to the AIBC in Kuala Lumpur.
  • Economic experts amongst you would have closely followed the implementation of the FTA on Trade in Goods in recent years. Your suggestions towards a review of its performance would be of great value.
  • As our Minister said yesterday, connectivity in all its dimensions is receiving the highest priority on the ASEAN India agenda. In addition to our efforts in Myanmar, we have instituted, since last year, an annual meeting of the ASEAN Connectivity Coordinating Committee and India which not only does a stock-taking of work underway but which is also looking at the utility of economic clusters and back-end linkages, SEZs and economic nodes along the connectivity corridors and also ways to encourage an inter-modal approach, which can integrate land, sea and air routes with hinterland economic activity. This meeting is going to be held on September 8, 2014 at Nay Pyi Taw and your brainstorming today on the link between soft infrastructure and physical connectivity as also investment cooperation to find financial solutions for this capital intensive agenda would be of relevance.
  • Progress in intra-ASEAN connectivity will also assist the objective of enhancing connectivity between ASEAN and India. But the physical infrastructure can be utilized only if we also agree on the soft infrastructure necessary to permit movement of traffic and goods on these economic corridors. We have, therefore, proposed that India-Myanmar-Thailand begin negotiations on a Transit Transport Agreement for the Trilateral Highway. We need to see suggestions on how Tier II and Tier III cities in India can develop business and tourism linkages with destinations in ASEAN on a scale that is sustainable the year round. This will assist efforts to broaden air connectivity beyond just some of the big capitals in ASEAN and the metros in India. We had made available 18 such routes to ASEAN some years ago and we are keen on their utilization at the earliest. We have also offered the ASEAN an Open Sky Policy on Cargo on quid pro quo basis.
  • The creation of soft infrastructure is still in development mode within ASEAN itself. But this should not be a limitation to discussions on such soft infrastructure linkages between ASEAN and India because the agenda of connectivity cannot progress effectively if these various elements - creation of infrastructure, the establishment of soft infrastructure and the integration of economic activity in the hinterland along these corridors of connectivity is taken on in a sequential manner. This work has to be simultaneous.
  • As you heard yesterday, we are looking to begin work on the next Plan of Action for 2016-2021. I hope your recommendations will have the specificity needed to make them action items for such a Plan. It will also help the search for investment solutions to realize these objectives. We have had some discussions with International Financial Institutions such as ADB and World Bank and also representatives from Indian Industry. We would like to see the ASEAN Infrastructure Bank as a partner to ASEAN India connectivity.
  • When we look at back-end linkages, we would like to draw on your experience in identifying specific Industry that could catalyze the utilization of connectivity corridors for economic and investment cooperation. Should we, for instance, orient our future Centres for English Language Training and Entrepreneurship Development to such activity. I would like your suggestions to include specific locations for such activity? I would urge that you keep in mind also that this agenda cannot progress on the shoulders of Governments alone. It needs the professionalism and the orientation to investment that is found in the private sector.
  • Your recommendations on the way forward would be circulated to the participants of Delhi Dialogue VII on March 11-12, 2015 and to the ASEAN and Indian Foreign Ministers ahead of that event.
  • As you debate these very specific issues, you would, of course, take cognizance of the 26 dialogue mechanisms, including Ministerial level meetings in agriculture, foreign affairs, trade, tourism, new & renewable energy, environment and telecom and the high level dialogues in Science & Technology and the SME sector, that have been utilizing the ASEAN India Cooperation Fund, the Science & Technology Development Fund and the ASEAN India Green Fund to implement projects under the Plan of Action that we have currently for 2010-2015. These projects had been suggested to the ASEAN Secretariat between September 2011 and November 2012. Projects and programmes worth USD 1.04 million have already been implemented; another set of over USD 17 million are under implementation and projects worth USD 30 million are still under discussion and finalization between ASEAN and India.
  • Between the activities of the ASEAN India Centre in the last one year, multiple editions of Delhi Dialogue and AINTT, the business "markers” that were organized along the route of the ASEAN India Car Rally and the sail training ship INS Sudarshini's expedition in 2012, the Investment Roundtables and the AIBC discussions, we have consensus on the potential and relevance of economic and investment cooperation and integration between ASEAN and India, using the instrument of physical connectivity and its soft infrastructure.
  • What we would like to now have as an input from members of our strategic community in the region are the specific projects that we can consider. We need a holistic approach, which looks at creation of infrastructure, generation of economic activity, development of local capacity and Industry and issues such as energy availability and environmental management in a coherent manner.
  • This will not only add to the substance of the ASEAN India strategic partnership but will also contribute to our capacities to partner each other in the East Asia region in terms of its geo-political and geo-economic dynamics and help us to sustain our combined role as growth engines for the global economic recovery.
  • I could, perhaps, now take two or three questions. I do have to leave soon since we are also holding, simultaneously, a meeting of our Regional Heads of Missions with the External Affairs Minister here in Hanoi.
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