India, ASEAN Push For Effective Connectivity Links, Early Review Of Trade Deals

India, ASEAN Push For Effective Connectivity Links, Early Review Of Trade Deals

by Nivedita Mukherjee - Friday, June 17, 2022 10:52 AM IST
India, ASEAN Push For Effective Connectivity Links, Early Review Of Trade DealsS Jaishankar delivers the keynote address.
  • The forum themed ‘building bridges in the Indo-Pacific’ aligns with India’s efforts to acquire a key stake in the region through infrastructure projects, bringing its people and commerce closer with countries of the 10-member group.

India has called upon Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to realise the untapped potential of their partnership with a more expansive and effective connectivity.

The partnership can be strengthened by aligning initiatives to the Master Plan for ASEAN Connectivity, expanding data, digitisation and technology linkages, and collaborating for building reliable and resilient supply chains as New Delhi looks to making a stronger contribution to the evolution of the Indo-Pacific.

“The connectedness of the two oceans along with ongoing global rebalancing call for an open-minded dialogue, which is what you have here,” External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar said, delivering the keynote address at the Ministerial Session of the 12th edition of the Delhi Dialogue, a forum hosted by India annually which serves as the main Track 1.5 mechanism for India-ASEAN engagement.

This edition of the Delhi Dialogue organised by the Research Information System, Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia in partnership with the Ministry of External Affairs, marks the celebration of 30 years of ASEAN-India ties that have evolved into a strategic partnership since 2012.

The forum, appropriately themed on ‘building bridges in the Indo-Pacific’, is opportunely synced with India’s twin efforts to acquire a key stake in the region through infrastructure projects, bringing its people and commerce physically closer with countries of the 10-member grouping as well as to forge greater integration with these economies.

“We should recognise that with trade and travel intrinsic to our cultures, there is an underlying comfort that is a great asset to building bridges.

“So, we are not just looking at bridges for their own sake, I think we are looking at bridges that could become economic pathways for a truly comprehensive strategic partnership between ASEAN and India,” Jaishankar told the gathering of ASEAN leaders.

The leaders included Foreign Minister of Cambodia Prak Sokhonn, Foreign Minister of Indonesia Retno P Marsudi, Foreign Minister of Malaysia Dato Sri Saifuddin Abdullah, Foreign Minister of Singapore Vivian Balakrishnan, Foreign Minister of Vietnam Bui Thanh Son and ASEAN Secretary General Dato Lim Jock among others.

The imperatives of a closer bonding between India and the ASEAN are, however, now more substantial underlined by the Indo-Pacific as the new centre of geo-strategic and geo-economic discourse amidst regional turbulence and concern over consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The conflict in Ukraine has made the global outlook even more uncertain and complex over food, fertiliser and fuel security.

Like the rest of the world, India and ASEAN too are recovering from Covid and would have to be better prepared for future health emergencies by moving beyond exchanges based on immediate need and building longer term health partnerships.

Moreover, both economies are driven by a rising consumer class, a strong startup ecosystem, a growing internet economy and a robust demographic dividend which need the advantages of digital cooperation.

In this changed order of things, the Indian perspective has also shaped around to viewing ASEAN at the centre of the Indo-Pacific, geographically, culturally and strategically, especially due to its dimension and location which commands a wide coverage.

Prioritising the need to tap the maximum and unharnessed potential of the two economies, India has pushed for improving connectivity with completion of the protracted Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project and the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, both passing through Myanmar.

These are the most challenging of initiatives undertaken by India because of topography and local conditions and India is pushing for early implementation with sustained focus, including through its bilateral engagement with Myanmar.

The co-chairs of special ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers’ meeting have also emphasised the need for the early completion and operationalisation of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway which is further headed for eastward extension to Lao PDR, Cambodia and Vietnam.

India believes there is also room to explore synergies with others like the BIMSTEC Master Plan for Connectivity which will offer seamless connectivity from India all the way to Vietnam and Philippines, creating an east-west lateral that will impact the entire Asian continent.

The co-chairs have importantly highlighted the need to achieve the full potential of ASEAN-India trade and economic partnership. An important step towards this is the enhanced utilisation and effective implementation of the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area (AIFTA) which would be possible by the early commencement of the review of the ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement (AITIGA).

India has been in discussion with ASEAN for initiating the review of the free-trade agreement in goods between the two regions to seek more market access for domestic products.

The co-chairs have called for ensuring that AITIGA is more user friendly, simple and trade facilitative for businesses and speeding up the process of endorsement of the review of AITIGA so that the AIFTA joint committee can be activated to oversee the implementation of the AITIGA review.

To further enhance the ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership, the co-chairs have called for addressing the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss by deepening cooperation for sustainable management of natural resources, greater utilisation of renewable and low-carbon energy and developing smart grids.

Also on the priority list is promoting micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) development through technical cooperation mechanisms and business matching activities as MSMEs constitute the backbone of the economies of ASEAN and India.

Preparing them for digital transformation through enhancing capacity building particularly in the utilisation of digital economy is another action plan for ASEAN and India.

Nivedita Mukherjee is a senior journalist covering economy, business, and trade.
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