Delhi Dialogue this week to boost Act East policy

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New Delhi, Feb 15 (IANS) In pursuance of the government’s Act East policy, the external affairs ministry on Monday announced it will hold the eighth edition of the Delhi Dialogue here from February 17 to 19.

The Delhi Dialogue is a premier annual track 1.5 diplomatic event to discuss the politico-security, economic and socio-cultural engagement between India and the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Held annually since 2009, this year’s edition is being held with the theme “Asean-India relations: A new paradigm”.

“This is specially pertinent as we prepare to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Asean-India relations in 2017,” Anil Wadhwa, secretary (east) in the external affairs ministry, said while briefing the media here.

Three major sessions will be held in this year’s event – academic, business and ministerial.

“This edition is going to build upon the advances that have been made, especially in the last year, towards deepening and strengthening our relationship with Asean,” Wadhwa said.

“2015 witnessed an intensive engagement with Asean countries at the level of ministers, senior officials, opinion-makers, business leaders etc. and this culminated in the summit level meeting between our prime minister (Narendrs Modi) and his 10 Asean counterparts in November 2015,” he said.

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According to Wadhwa, the Asean region is the fourth largest economy in the world with a population of 622 million, comprising largely middle income people.

“Moreover, the Asean-India Free Trade Area (FTA) has been completed with the entering into force of the Asean-India agreement on trade and services, and investments on July 1, 2015,” he said.

To take advantage of this and to encourage integration of Indian producers in regional value chains of the Asean, India’s ministry of commerce and industry was in the process of establishing a project development fund with a corpus Rs.500 crore which would help create manufacturing hubs in Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR), Myanmar and Vietnam, the secretary (east) said.

“The regional comprehensive economic partnership between Asean and the six FTA partners of which India is a member is expected to be finalised in 2016. That will give a further boost to our trade and investment relations with Asean,” he said.

Wadhwa said that India has enhanced the Asean-India Science and Technology Development Fund from $1 million to $5 million. An Asean-India innovation platform is also on the cards.

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“Renewable energy is another area of mutual interest. At the last Asean-India summit in Kuala Lumpur, our prime minister also extended an invitation to Asean countries to be part of the International Solar Alliance (ISA) which he launched in November 2015 and to partner us in sutainable energy initiatives,” he said.

The ISA is an alliance of some 120 countries situated between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn that receive sunlight for 300 or more days in a year.

Wadhwa said that India was offering Asean countries 100 training slots in renewable energy in the country’s institutions.

Among the dignitaries who will be participating in this year’s Delhi Dialogue are Sofyam A. Djalil, minister for national development planning of Indonesia and head of the National Development planning Agency; U Tin Oo Lwin, deputy minister of foreign affairs of Myanmar; Vikasakdi Futrakul, vice minister of foreign affairs of Thailand; Le Hoai Trung, vice minister of foreign affairs of Vietnam; Somchith Inthamith, vice minister of industry and commerce of Lao PDR; Vikram Nair, member of parliament and chairperson of the Governmment Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs of Singapore as well as chairman of the Singapore-India Parliamentary Friendship Group; Kan Pharidh, under-secretary of state in the foreign ministry of Cambodia; and A.K.P. Mochtan, deputy secretary general for community and corporate affairs at the Asean Secretariat.

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The Chief Ministers of two northeastern states, T.R. Zeliang of Nagaland and Lal Thanhawla of Mizoram, will also be participating.

“Normally we talk about how to integrate the northeast with our Act East policy and in that respect what are the expectations of the northeastern states, what is required by them, what are their priorities and how they can be benefitted from this integration with Asean,” Wadhwa said.

“So it helps us to articulate those views and these views are taken back by the delegates who are there to put into practice in their own countries,” he added.

While the presidents of the industry bodies Ficci, CII and Assocham will address the business session on February 17, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will host the ministerial session on February 18.

The academic session on February 19 will see discussions between scholars and opinion-makers on issues like Asean and the security of Asia-Pacific and Asean-India and ocean economy dynamics.

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