Marking India’s 25 years of partnership with the ASEAN, the Modi government seeks to augment its ties with the 10-member regional grouping in the coming year. Not only will the 10 heads of state from the ASEAN region participate in the 69th Republic Day Celebrations as chief guests on January 26, there will also be an India-ASEAN Commemorative Summit that will be held on January 25. The theme of the summit, ‘Shared Values, Common Destiny’, will have a special focus on 3 Cs – Commerce, Connectivity and Culture, sources said.
“The very fact that all 10 leaders are coming from these countries for the Republic Day celebrations and have also agreed to hold a summit for the second time in such a short span of time is an indication of the fact that they recognise India’s ‘Act East Policy’,” said a top official. With connectivity at its core, the summit will also seek to discuss the progress achieved so far in some of the crucial projects such as the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport corridor and India-Thailand Trilateral Highway, which have been moving at snail’s pace for almost a decade now. Efforts will be made to expedite these projects. On the trilateral highway, efforts are being taken to complete the project by 2019 and then extending it to the CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) countries, the official said.
In commerce, the summit will also seek to address the most contentious part of the relationship, which is bilateral trade between India and ASEAN. While the free trade agreement on goods have been in place since 2010, the pact on services trade have not yet been ratified by Philippines, Laos and Cambodia. It was signed in 2014.“Yes, the pact on services trade has not yet been implemented as it awaits ratification from some of the countries. But it is hoped that it will be ratified soon and we will be able to implement it,” the official said. ASEAN is India’s fourth largest trading partner. Bilateral trade between India and ASEAN reached $70 billion in 2016-17, up from $65 billion in 2015-16.
The ASEAN is also upset with India for not making enough progress in the China-led mega trade deal – the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The official also said that a master plan on port connectivity will also be developed so that trade with ASEAN can be enhanced with a special focus on maritime connectivity. “We are looking at enhancing port connectivity with the ASEAN countries. Right now almost 10 per cent of India’s trade gets transited through the Singapore port. So we are planning to have more port connectivity,” the official said.