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UPA's priority will be immediate neighbours

May 31, 2004 20:27 IST

The United Progressive Alliance government will give the highest priority to bilateral relations and work to increase areas of agreement with immediate neighbours.

External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh on Monday held a meeting with top Indian diplomats from SAARC and ASEAN countries to assess future policy options.

It was agreed that building India's bilateral relations with these countries assumed the 'highest priority'.

"With our immediate neighbours, we will work to increase areas of agreement and intensify our contacts," the External Affairs Ministry said in a statement in Delhi.

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It said the countries of South East Asia were important to India in political, economic and strategic terms. "We will further strengthen bilateral relations with them, as well as our interaction with ASEAN since it constitutes a major dimension of our foreign policy."

The meeting, the first of its kind convened by Singh, was spread over five hours and will continue on Tuesday.

Among those present were Indian envoys from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand.

Meanwhile, at an interactive session organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry with 16 heads of Indian missions, Rajiv Sikri, Special Secretary (Economic Relations) in the MEA emphasised that economic relations with neighbours were strategically important.

"Good economic integration will serve broader political objectives," he said.

The diplomats stated that specific business opportunities for the Indian industry would open up with the MFA in textiles becoming operational from January 2005. They said the region is keen on enhanced trade with India.

On the proposed ASEAN Car Rally being jointly planned by the CII and MEA, he said it would go a long way in creating awareness between ASEAN countries and India.

He also said that better trade ties with ASEAN and SAARC would have a positive impact in the economic progress of India's Northeast.

At present, India-ASEAN trade is worth $13billion. The target is to raise this figure to $30billion by 2007.

India's trade with SAARC is $7billion.

Sunil Kant Munjal, CII president-elect, said Indian industry is committed to engage further with ASEAN and SAARC.
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