Kicking off the 4th India-ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi said that 'India is one of ASEAN's most active partners.'
The Association of South East Asian Nations, he said no longer considers India as only an information technology giant, but also a powerhouse in the areas of biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
He said that ASEAN looks forward to taking advantage of India's capabilities and expertise in biotechnology, development and manufacturing of generic medicines, and information technology.
Both ASEAN and India expressed satisfaction with the dialogues, ever since the partnership was upgraded to the level of a summit in 2002.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday that ASEAN was central to India's 'Look East' policy. He said trade between India and ASEAN was progressing well and it was on target to touch $30 billion by 2007.
With the issues relating to rules of origin being sorted out amicably, there is no real issue that can stand in the way of a successful completion of free trade agreements (FTAs) between the 10 nations of ASEAN and India in January, 2007.
Besides FTA, India's biotechnological and pharmaceutical prowess also came up for discussion. ASEAN sought India's help on maritime security, specially protecting the Malacca Straits.
A terrorist attack in this economically strategic waterway would certainly have the potential to cause large-scale economic impact, not just regionally but on a global scale. About 60,000 ships transit the waterway each year. Approximately one-third of the world's trade and half of the world's oil pass through the Straits on their way to countries like China and Japan.
ASEAN comprises of the 10 countries: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Lauding the achievements of the Indian prime minister, Badawi said: "India is an important and influential member of the international community. It is fast emerging as a major growth pole in the world, which I believe can be attributed to you Mr Prime Minister when you were then in charge of the Indian economy a decade ago."
Trade and economy
India and ASEAN, in the Bali Summit in 2003, had signed the ASEAN-India Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic cooperation. The focus of thia pact was to establish an ASEAN-India Free Trade Area in Goods by 2011, to ensure progressive liberalisation for trade in services and investment regimes between both sides, and to implement the Early Harvest Programme.
However, India and ASEAN have now agreed not to pursue the EHP.
Badawi, however, expressed concern on the proposal by India to exclude a substantial portion of trade from the FTA through exclusion of a large number of products from tariff concessions. The prime minister said that once he gets back home he will 'resolve the matter in a flexible and pragmatic manner.'
Singh said that there was considerable enthusiasm amongst businessmen and India will play a supportive role to facilitate them.
Both sides discussed the global issue of terrorism and pledged to intensify cooperation to fight the menace. Badawi in his message said, "Terrorism is still a major threat to our collective security in this region. We are saddened with the loss of lives as a result of the recent bombings in India."
He said it is timely to proceed with implementing some form of concrete cooperation based on the ASEAN-India Declaration on Cooperation to Combat International Terrorism which was adopted in Bali.
ASEAN and India, during the Vientiane Summit in 2004 had signed the ASEAN-India partnership for peace, progress and shared prosperity and had endorsed a Plan of Action to implement it. It was agreed that both sides would develop a more substantive activity in this regard.
The issue of maritime security, like combatting drug trafficking and piracy at high sea was also discussed. The prime minister said that India would share its expertise in combating terrorism.
The issue of connectivity -- air, road and sea -- was also discussed at the meet. The 2004 India-ASEAN car rally generated immense enthusiasm. The feasibility study of the Delhi-Hanoi rail line and India-Myanmar-Thailand road line is complete. But construction is yet to start on either.
PM's 6-point agenda
- The prime minister proposed that permanent centres for English language training should be set up in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. The objective would be to equip students, civil servants, professionals and businessmen with adequate English language and communication skills.
- He proposed that a tele-medicine and tele-education network be set up for Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. The four countries would be linked with India through a satellite-based network.
- Thirdly, he said, a special training course be organised for diplomats from ASEAN countries through the Foreign Service Institute.
- And India-ASEAN Technology Summit may be organised through the department of science and technology and the Confederation of India Industry.
- Manmohan Singh proposed that Education Consultants India Ltd organise education fairs and a road show in ASEAN countries in 2006. Both public and private universities and educational institutions will be associated with the initiative.
- He also proposed that an India-ASEAN IT ministerial and industry forum should be organised in 2006 through the department of information technology.
Both India and ASEAN agreed to work more closely on the tsunami early warning system.
ASEAN thanked India for its contribution of $5 million to the ASEAN-India Cooperation Fund. India also contributed $5 million towards ASEAN Development Fund.
Science and technology
ASEAN also lauded India's assistance and cooperation in the field of science and technology, human resource development and English language training specially to the CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) countries.
The prime minister said that globalisation is a reality that exists. "We need to take strategic decisions," on whether to tackle the issues on an individual level or a s a collective whole.
Since most countries of the region are energy deficient, both India and ASEAN agreed to work towards energy security. ASEAN and India may work on projects dealing with renewable sources such as solar energy, biotechnology, geothermal energy and other renewable sources of energy.