Dip in ASEAN-India trade should be wake up call: Khurshid

Brunei, July 1 (IANS) India said Monday its trade relations with ASEAN have witnessed impressive growth – 10 times in 10 years – but a slight decline in bilateral trade last year with the 10-member Southeast Asian bloc should serve as a wake-up call.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, addressing the 11th ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan, emphasised India’s keenness to further the process towards setting up the ASEAN Community by 2015.

He announced the setting up of the ASEAN-India Centre in New Delhi, which would serve as a “resource to assist us, in particular, in implementing connectivity projects across the three dimensions: geographic; institutional; and people-to-people”.

He said India-ASEAN economic and commercial engagement “has seen very impressive trade growth, 10 times in the 10 years, since we launched our Summit level partnership in 2002. But it is very important that we do not rest on our laurels”.

He said the FTA on Trade in Goods signed in 2009 “helped us to meet our trade target of $70 billion ahead of time when the trade turnover in 2012 reached $80 billion. But the more recent trend of a relative decline in ASEAN-India trade during 2012-13, though minor, should serve as a wake up call”.

Khurshid pushed for ratification of the ASEAN-India Trade in Services and Investment Agreements, negotiations for which were concluded last December, “and an early signature of these agreements before our Leaders meet again in another three months”.

“This is also essential for achieving our trade target of $100 billion by 2015 as directed in the Vision Statement by our Leaders”.

He said “as ASEAN countries integrate amongst themselves, the process of integration with India should also move apace, whether on facilitating our people-to-people linkages, our institutional and trade complementarity or our geographical connectivity. We would like to engage with you as to how India can contribute further to the processes towards the ASEAN Community by 2015”.

Khurshid said that “one of the most progressive developments under the chairmanship of Brunei Darussalam is, that we have initiated the annual ASEAN Connectivity Coordinating Committee (ACCC)-India Meeting, to facilitate coordination and policy decisions on connectivity issues”.

The meeting, he said, would discuss the idea of “a possible maritime transport route linking India, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam and has suggested the setting up of a Joint Working Group on Maritime Connectivity to explore linkages to complement the ASEAN Roll-On/Roll-Off (RO-RO) Shipping Network”.

On the Mekong India Economic Corridor, he said the ASEAN governments need to provide incentives, including setting up of SEZs, to attract our private sectors to invest in these connectivity corridors.

He said India’s commitments to the Trilateral Highway linking India-Myanmar-Thailand are proceeding as planned. “We are looking forward to engage with the ASEAN in the upcoming seminars on connectivity in Thailand in July and November as also in Brunei Darussalam in August”.

On tourism, he said India is discussing the feasibility of providing a link from ASEAN to the Buddhist sites in India to facilitate tourist arrivals from ASEAN.

ASEAN members are Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

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