New Delhi, July 4 (IANS) The proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) offers immense possibilities for trade between India and the countries of the Asean bloc, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Tuesday.
“Our economic relations have grown over the years,” Sushma Swaraj said while addressing the ninth edition of the Delhi Dialogue here, the premier annual track 1.5 event to discuss politico-security, economic and socio-cultural engagement between India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
“Trade is back on track and registered an 8 per cent increase in 2016-17 as compared to the previous year,” she stated.
Stating that Asean and India have given a major boost to trade and services, she said that a meeting is scheduled for next week to explore means to further enhance trade and economic ties
“We are actively engaged in negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership,” Sushma Swaraj said.
“We look forward to a positive outcome to the next round of negotiations that will commence in Hyderabad next monrh,” she said.
“When finalised, RCEP offers immense possibilities as the largest regional trade arrangement accounting for about 30 per cent of the world’s trade.”
RCEP is a proposed regional free trade agreement between the 10 Asean member states — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam — and the six countries with which Asean has existing free trade agreements — Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
Sushma Swaraj said that in order to improve market access, a project development fund has been created to facilitate Indian companies to set up businesses and investments in the CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Vietnam) countries.
Stating that Asean and India were natural partners, she said that the region’s cultural highway was linked by the rivers Ganga, Brahmaputra, Meghna, Irrawaddy, and Mekong.
“It is important to note that this inter-mingling happened without any conquest or colonisation,” she stressed.
Stating that economic progress and well-being of India and the Asean nations were interlinked, Sushma Swaraj aid that after the two sides upgraded the relationship to a strategic partnership, New Delhi put Asean at the heart of its Act East Policy.
She said that the future focus areas of cooperation between India and Asean could best be described in terms of three Cs – commerce, connectivity and culture.
“Freedom of navigation and respect for international law, notably Unclos (UN Convention for the Law of the Sea), is therefore imperative in this context,” she said.
“Equally, we remain committed with Asean to enhance our maritime cooperation, to realise the full potential of our ocean economy. We will continue to step up cooperation in countering terrorism, cyber security, anti-piracy and other transnational crimes.”
Stating that connectivity between India and Asean and within Asean was a core focus area, Sushma Swaraj said development of infrastructure to enhance connectivity, both within India and in the northeastern region of India in particular and extension of these connectivity linkages into Asean was a priority for New Delhi.
“The economic and geo-political centre of gravity of the world is shifting towards our region,” she said. “India and Asean represent a combined population of 1.85 billion (a quarter of the global population) with a GDP of over $3.8 trillion, creating one of the largest economic spaces in the world.”
Stating that the government has taken a series of initiatives, including the recently launched Goods and Service Tax (GST), to improve the business environment in India, she invited companies from Asean countries to take advantage of these opportunities for investments in numerous sectors such as smart cities, roads, highways, ports, railways, power and urban infrastructure.
Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh said that the Asean-India partnership was key to stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
He said that both Asean and India should implement infrastructure projects like highways and seaports and enhance air connectivity.
He also urged both sides to promote cooperation in the areas of education, tourism and people-to-people ties.
Myanmarese Union Minister in the Ministry of the Office of the State Counsellor U Kyaw Tint Swe appreciated India for undertaking key connectivity projects like the Kaladan multi-modal transport project and the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway.