India urges ‘friend’ Philippines to help with APEC membership

New Delhi, July 18 (IANS) India has urged “friend” Philippines, the chair of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, to facilitate India’s inclusion in the forum of 21 Pacific Rim member economies.

Anil Wadhwa, secretary (East) in the external affairs ministry, said at a talk here that the APEC was one of the major groupings where “India is conspicuous by its absence”.

He said India had applied for membership in 1991 and “hope friend Philippines that holds the APEC chairmanship this year will use its good offices to have the moratorium on APEC membership, which is on since 1997, lifted”.

“We believe India can play an important role within APEC of growth, development and stability of the Asia-Pacific region. India can also inject dynamism into APEC and make it truly reflective of the 21st century realities,” Wadhwa said at the ASEAN-India Eminent Person Lecture on “India-Philippines Relations: Ways and Means of Strengthening it” on Friday.

Philippines Foreign Secretary Evan Garcia, in reply to a question, said that in his opinion, “the APEC has an overloaded agenda” and therefore “looking at new membership has fallen by the wayside”.

He said he feels that India will have “tremendous contribution” to make towards the major forum.

India’s case to the Philippines comes even as former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, who is the president of the Asia Society Institute, and MasterCard president and CEO Ajay Banga have made a strong case for India to be made member of the grouping that promotes free trade throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

“India is a rising power, eager for a greater role in Asian and global affairs,” they have written in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal Asia, saying it was the “right time” for India to join the APEC bloc and become fully integrated into the global economy.

“Indian membership in APEC has been in the very slow lane for 20 years through a combination of indifference and inertia in Delhi, Washington and the regional capitals,” they said.

“Integration with the APEC countries is also essential to India achieving its goal of becoming a manufacturing hub. APEC membership would help prepare India to participate in the emerging mega-regional trade arrangements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) that will define the future of global trade,” they said.

Rudd and Banga noted that because APEC has now ended its moratorium on new membership and key member economies have officially welcomed India’s interest in joining, the “opportunity has never been greater to integrate such a vital country into the emerging economic institutions of the 21st century”.

APEC includes Canada, Mexico, Russia and the US and accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s population, 55 percent of global gross domestic product and 44 percent of world trade.

Former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, the chairperson of think tank RIS, said India and the Philippines need to focus more attention to their ties in terms of Asia’s security and their economic ties.

The lecture was organised by the ASEAN-India Centre and think tank Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) at the India Habitat Centre.

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