Home / News / India /  Covid gave sense of urgency to a move by India to rework ASEAN ties: Jaishankar
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NEW DELHI: The covid-19 pandemic has given a new sense of urgency to a move by India to re-work its ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN, Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar said Thursday.

In a speech at the inaugural session of the India-ASEAN Business Summit, Jaishankar also said that India’s idea of an “Atmanirbhar Bharat" or a “self reliant India" was in line with its aim of becoming a “democratic and trustworthy partner for global industrial resiliency."

“On its part, India’s economic recovery is impelled by reform in various areas including manufacturing, labour, agriculture, education, skills and of course, improving the ease of doing business. We aspire to be a more effective engine of growth and a part of reliable and resilient supply chains," the minister said amid concerns that India was turning inward and protectionist.

Besides Jaishankar, those who addressed the session included Singaporean foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan and ASEAN Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi. In his remarks, Balakrishnan said he hoped “India will continue to remain open to the world and continue business friendly policies" as he welcomed the move towards settlement of 17 retrospective tax disputes that had caused disquiet within the international business community. Balakrishnan also lauded India’s National Monetisation Pipeline initiative that aims to tap private sector investment for new infrastructure. India and the ASEAN were also looking a potential review of the India-ASEAN free trade pact in goods, signed about a decade ago, Balakrishnan added.

In his speech, Jaishankar noted that India’s ties with the ASEAN had grown in the past decades to add new elements. Connectivity and security were the later additions, he said adding that this resulted in the transformation of what had started out as India’s “Look East" policy in the 1990s to the current “Act East" policy.

The success of the “Act East" policy “is reflected in drawing India more comprehensively into the Indo-Pacific," the minister said.

“There is no doubt that the ASEAN is one of the major hubs for India’s global economic engagement. As it develops, it is natural that we would like to re-visit the level of ambition that we have set for our partnership. That is also influenced by autonomous changes in the region. But what has given this objective a new urgency is the necessity to re-imagine our cooperation in the light of the covid-19 pandemic," the minister said.

With the pandemic upending traditional supply chains and in turn paralyzing manufacturing and destroying many services sectors, the solution to these issues lay in “diversification, expansion and transparency," Jaishankar said.

“De-risking our national economies will only be possible if we achieve a strong measure of success quickly in that regard," he said adding that India’s “Atmanirbhar Bharat" programme was aimed at integrating the country quickly with global supply chains.

In his comments, ASEAN Secretary General Lim Jock Hoi said he hoped India would not “completely close its mind to rejoining RCEP" or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. RCEP is a regional free trade pact covering trade in goods, trade in services, investment, economic and technical cooperation among the ASEAN and Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. India had taken part in negotiations but walked out of the pact in November 2019 worried that Chinese goods would enter its market through third countries.

“RCEP remains open to India’s participation at any time" that New Delhi decides to opt for it, Lim Jock Hoi said.

He also urged India’s pharmaceutical industry to take advantage of certain relaxation of rules that allow easier entry of pharmaceutical products into the ASEAN and expand their presence in the region. This would be needed not only to deal with the current pandemic but also prepare for future health emergencies, Lim Jock Hoi added.

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