Seol: India and South Korea on Sunday announced a series of steps, from commerce to defence to space cooperation, to deepen the strategic partnership between Asia’s third and fourth largest economies.

Buoyed by a substantial jump in trade—between 65% and 70% after a comprehensive economic partnership agreement was inked in January 2010—both nations have decided to scale up their bilateral target from $30 billion in 2014 to $40 billion by 2015, the leaders of the two countries said on Sunday. Trade in 2011 topped $20 billion.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh “underlined the desirability of balanced trade relations" and “ways to facilitate greater market access for each other’s products and services," after wide-ranging discussions with President Lee Myung Bak, according to a joint statement.

Singh, who is in Seoul for the second nuclear security summit hosted by South Korea and scheduled for Tuesday, met Lee on Sunday for talks on bilateral matters.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, his wife Gursharan Kaur with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and his wife Kim-Yoon-ok at Caption Seoul (PTI)

Singh also invited small- and medium-scale companies from South Korea to invest in India. Vishnu Prakash, Indian ambassador in Seoul, told reporters that approximately 99% of Korean industries are in the medium- and small-scale sector and are responsible for creating 88% of jobs in the country. There were also discussions on improving air connectivity between the two countries.

“There is considerable untapped potential given that South Korea is one of the fastest growing Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (a group of high-income countries) countries and India is one of the fastest growing major economies," said Sanjay Singh, secretary (east), ministry of external affairs.

Singh and Lee also discussed progress on South Korean steel maker Posco’s plans to set up a $12 billion plant in India, which has been stalled for almost seven years. Billed as India’s largest foreign direct investment, the project has been delayed by farmers’ protests against the acquisition of land for the plant.

“We expressed that there was progress in the implementation of the Posco project. Both sides attach importance to it... We hope there is progress in the future," Sanjay Singh said.

To boost the strategic content of their partnership, Singh announced that India will appoint a defence attache to Seoul by the end of this year. This comes two years after a visit by defence minister A.K. Antony to South Korea, during which the two countries had signed two agreements, one on defence cooperation and another between India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation and South Korea’s defence acquisition programme administration for cooperation in research and development.

Singh and Lee agreed to “continue high-level exchanges between the defence establishments of both sides," and to “explore the possibilities of joint ventures in research and development and manufacture of military equipment including through the transfer of technology and co-production," the joint statement said. “President Lee underscored that Korea wanted to increase cooperation with India in military and defence industry," the statement said in a reference to manufacture of hardware, including naval ships and aircraft. Singh told reporters that India “has offered to launch Korean satellites on Indian space launch vehicles."

This follows from a pact both countries had signed on space cooperation in 2010 during a visit to India by Lee, Sanjay Singh said. He also said that the proposed collaboration in defence and military fields mirrored the upswing in ties and was in keeping with the strategic partnership given that South Korea had “considerable prowess" in defence production.

When asked about the impact of closer defence and strategic cooperation between India and South Korea on China, which has been wary of India increasing its economic and military engagement with countries in East Asia, Sanjay Singh said: “Our relations with every country stand on their own merit and are not predicated on relations?with?any?other country."

Lee, in his remarks to reporters after talks with Singh, said he was “pleased" with the progress made between the two countries after the signing of their civilian nuclear agreement last year.

“Recognizing the criticality of non-polluting nuclear energy in the economic development of countries, they (India and South Korea) agreed to discuss specific items of cooperation... President Lee requested that the Indian government allocate a site for Korean nuclear reactors," the statement said.

According to Sanjay Singh, South Korea generates 45% of its electricity from nuclear power plants and has expertise in building 1,400MW plants, considered the most advanced in the world. Power-hungry India is aiming to increase installed capacity by more than seven times to 35,000MW by 2022 and to 60,000MW by 2032. India now generates less than 5,000MW from nuclear power plants.

On North Korea’s threat to launch a long-range rocket next month, Lee said, Singh and he agreed that this “constitutes a grave threat to peace and security" to the region. To keep up the momentum of high-level engagement, South Korea’s ministers for defence and foreign affairs would be visiting India soon and the Indian commerce minister would also be travelling to Seoul in the course of this year, Sanjay Singh said.

elizabeth.r@livemint.com

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