By Ranjana Narayan
On Board Air India One: India will be engaging with Asean nations and countries of east Asia at two summits Nov 19-20 in Cambodia, a minister said Sunday, as New Delhi steps up effort to push its Look East policy.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Sunday arrived at the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh to attend the two regional summits — 10th Asean-India Summit and the 7th East Asia Summit.
The global focus has now shifted to Asia and the Pacific region which accounts for three billion of the world’s population and 40 percent of the GDP, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said in a briefing to accompanying newspersons on board the special aircraft.
Singh will hold six bilateral meetings with leaders, including Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, on the sidelines of the two summits, Sharma said.
“India views its engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean — a 10-nation bloc) and with east Asia (Asean plus eight countries) as very important, as integral to our approach of engaging with this region for our Look East policy, which has progressed over the years,” Sharma said, adding that the engagements with the countries of the Asia and Pacific region were very stable.
He said the Asean economic ministers had firmed up the draft of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an agreement between the East Asia countries in August 2012, and the summit would take a view on it.
“The summit (east Asia) will consider the recommendations and take an appropriate view,” he added. A statement will be issued at the summit to convey “with clarity” the status on the RCEP.
The partnership is of major importance, considering the “shift in the global architecture” and the economic output of the countries of the region, the minister said.
India has signed a Free Trade Agreement with Asean on goods, while it is in the “final stages of concluding an FTA (free trade agreement) on investments and services, he added.
To a question on the investment and services agreement, he said the negotiators met Saturday and Sunday in Phnom Penh and “we hope to bring it to an early conclusion”, he said, adding that India hopes to conclude it by December when it is hosting the Asean-India Commemorative Summit.
The two-way trade between India and Asean is $75 billion, with $40 billion from Asean and $35 billion from India, Sharma said.
The two way investments are “fairly robust”, with India investing in excess of $61 billion and Asean countries investing $60 billion. “The major investments are from two countries, Japan and South Korea,” he said.
The two-way trade with East Asian countries, of which US, China and Russia are dialogue partners, comprises $194 billion dollars, he said.
India is engaging in a major way with Asean countries this year as it marks the 20th anniversary of of its relationship with the grouping as a full dialogue partner and 10th anniversary of Asean-India summit-level partnership.
With China, with which India has a major strategic and cooperative partnership, the meetings between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Premier Wen Jiabao would cover all issues.
India has “flagged the issue of a fair trade balance and market access for India in IT and pharmaceutical sectors”, he said.
India is seeking more cooperation with China – India’s largest trading partner – on investments, which are increasing on both sides and collaborations in key sectors in infrastructure and in manufacturing, “which is perhaps India’s most important policy roll out”.
India will host in New Delhi on Dec 20-21 later this year the Asean-India Commemorative Summit to mark the 20th anniversary of the relationship and the 10th anniversary of Asean-India Summit-level partnership.