New Delhi: India is expected to push for fast-tracking the proposed regional trade agreement in services and investment with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) this weekend, according to a commerce ministry official and analysts tracking the developments.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is leading a delegation that includes commerce minister Anand Sharma to the seventh India-Asean Summit and the fourth East Asia Summit at Hua Hin, Thailand, on 24-25 October.
Asean is India’s fourth largest trading partner after the European Union, the US and China. India-Asean trade stood at $48 billion (Rs2.2 trillion) in 2008. India has already signed a free trade agreement (FTA) in goods with Asean in August.
Look east: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Hua Hin airport in Cha-am, Thailand, on Friday. PTI
A commerce ministry official said India aims to conclude the negotiations in services and investment within six months. He didn’t want to be named ahead of the summit.
Under the FTA, Asean member countries and India will lift import tariffs on more than 80% of traded products between 2013 and 2016, starting from 1 January.
Before leaving for the summit on Friday, Singh said in a statement India’s enhanced engagement with Asean is at the heart of its “Look East” policy.
“The India-Asean Summit is an occasion to review the progress in our relations with Asean countries. I will inform Asean leaders about the several initiatives that India has taken to qualitatively enhance our partnership in diverse areas of our cooperation,” he said.
Singh also said he will discuss new initiatives with Asean leaders to accelerate India’s engagement in areas such as greater economic integration, people-to-people contacts, agriculture, human resource development, education, science and technology, and information and communications technology.
“The Prime Minister may use this opportunity to further push for a comprehensive economic treaty with Asean. He may emphasise the creation of an Asian economic community,” said Rajiv Kumar, director of the Indian Council of Research in International Economic Relations, or Icrier.
“He may also advocate establishing an Asian Investment Bank in line with the European Investment Bank to meet funding requirements for enhancing infrastructure in the region,” he added.
The East Asia Summit will review cooperation in five key areas—energy, education, finance, avian influenza and national disaster mitigation. Asia’s response to the global economic slowdown, food security, energy security and climate change will be important issues of discussion.
Singh also expressed hope the summit would endorse a proposal for establishing the Nalanda University in Bihar as an international institution of excellence in education with a continental focus.
He is also scheduled to hold bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the summit with the prime minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen, the premier of China, Wen Jiabao, and the president of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Singh is also likely to meet the prime minister of Japan, Yukio Hatoyama, the prime minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, the prime minister of Thailand, Abhisit Vejjajiva, and the prime minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Tan Dung.