India on Wednesday strongly pushed for early conclusion of a free trade agreement with ASEAN in services and investment and expansion of communication links with the member States of the 10-nation grouping considered one of the world's fastest growing regions.
Addressing the ASEAN-India Ministerial meeting Phnom Penh, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna highlighted the growing congruence in India's ties with the bloc and emphasised the need for strengthening private sector participation and encouraging cross-country private-public partnerships in improving connectivity between ASEAN nations and India.
"The story of economic growth in our partnership is meeting expectations despite the global economic downturn.
Two-way trade between ASEAN and India in 2011-12 reached $80 billion.
"We believe that the early conclusion of the ASEAN-India Services and Investment Agreements would give a strong fillip to our economic engagement," he told the annual meeting attended by Foreign Ministers and top officials of the ASEAN countries.
India and the ASEAN have already implemented a free trade agreement in goods and are engaged in intense negotiations to widen its base and include services and investments.
The India-ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement was signed in August 2010 after six years of negotiations and it came into force on January 1 last year.
Services and Investments could not be included in that free trade agreement as the two sides failed to reconcile their differences in time and it was decided to have a separate pact on these sectors.
"India's relationship with ASEAN is a key cornerstone of our foreign policy and the foundation of our Look East Policy.
"We have attempted to anchor this within the larger context of Asia as an engine for global growth and prosperity," Krishna said.
Seeking expansion of the ties, he said a number of project proposals are being finalised between ASEAN and India through the ASEAN Secretariat, reflecting the 'earnest desire' of the two sides to deepen the engagement in diverse sectors.
"Geographic, institutional and people-to-people connectivity, e-linkages, capacity building across sectors, cooperation in frontier areas like space technology, agriculture, energy, environment and biodiversity are some of the areas that I would suggest for particular attention in the months ahead," he said.
Noting that 2012 marks two decades of ASEAN-India Dialogue Partnership, the minister said the Government of India was looking forward to the privilege of welcoming the ASEAN Leaders and Ministers at the special ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in New Delhi from December 20 to 21.
"The Commemorative Summit will present a special opportunity to pronounce together a new era in the ASEAN-India partnership," he said.
"The civilisational strengths and historical linkages between India and ASEAN countries need to be extended further to improve road, sea, rail, digital and people-to-people connectivity in present times.
"This is an imperative if we are to reinforce the economic foundations in our region for collective progress and prosperity," Krishna said.
The meeting took stock of the entire gamut of India-ASEAN relationship.
A number of countries, including Vietnam and Singapore, also emphasised the need to finalise the FTA with India in services and investment as early as possible.