5th FICCI Quality Systems Excellence Awards for Industry
The year 2017 marks the 25th
anniversary of ASEAN-India relations. We have come a long way. Born in 1967 during the Cold War, ASEAN lifted Southeast Asia out of the fog of war and conflict. From the outset, ASEAN established and committed ourselves to principles such as mutual respect for sovereignty, non-interference in internal affairs, peaceful settlement of disputes, and respect for international law. The commonality of interests has led ASEAN and India to officially establish a sectoral dialogue partnership, which was subsequently elevated to a full dialogue partnership in 1995.
There is indeed much to celebrate on this occasion. Over the last 25 years, the relationship between ASEAN and India has grown into a multifaceted one, spanning many areas of cooperation, including in the functional, political, and security dimensions. India's participation in ASEAN cooperation frameworks, like the ASEAN+1, the ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting and the East Asia Summit, which draw together leaders of major powers and countries in the region to discuss issues of common interest, serves to contribute to a more secure regional landscape and facilitate substantial cooperation between states. In August 2015, ASEAN and India adopted the Plan of Action (POA) to Implement the ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity (2016 – 2020), which comprises three broad areas, namely political and security cooperation; economic cooperation; and socio-cultural cooperation.
As a reflection of the mutual interest in intensifying our engagement, ASEAN and India launched the ASEAN-India Centre in New Delhi in 2013 to promote, among others, trade, investment, tourism and cultural exchanges. In 2015, India established a separate Diplomatic Mission to ASEAN based in Jakarta. ASEANIndia socio-cultural cooperation has also expanded to include sectors such as human resource development, science and technology, health and pharmaceuticals, transport and infrastructure, small and medium enterprises, tourism, information and communication technology, agriculture, food security, climate change and energy.
In particular, there are two areas where India and ASEAN are invaluable partners to each other, and in which we must seize the opportunity to do more. First, economics. Both ASEAN and India are large and vibrant economies of Asia. Greater economic integration and synergy between both ASEAN and India can propel both sides to the best position to take advantage of opportunities for greater prosperity in our countries to improve the lives of our peoples. Closer cooperation can tear down walls, create greater demand for goods, services and investment, which in turn means more jobs and opportunities. This also introduces a new dynamic of continuous productivity gains and skill-upgrading, leading to improvements in production standards, management knowhow, in supply chains, finance and HR systems, and in tracking of global competitors. If both sides can work together to integrate their economies to enhance trade and investment flows, we can have a big impact on Asia's growth. ASEAN today is India's fourth largest trade partner, and the
source of about 12.5% of all inbound investment flows since 2000. But the volume of trade and investment flows between ASEAN and India remains relatively low compared with other dialogue partners of ASEAN. At the 10th ASEAN-India Summit in November 2012, the Leaders set a target to bring total ASEAN-India trade to US$100 billion by 2015. Today (as of November 2016), ASEAN-India trade still only stands at US$58.5 billion. There is space to grow.
One driver of economic integration that we have is the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area (AIFTA), signed 6 years ago. Another vehicle that will drive ASEAN-India economic cooperation is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). RCEP has the potential to transform the East Asian region into a single and integrated market, comprising nearly half of the world's population and about a third of its current annual GDP. RCEP will not just provide economic opportunities, but it is a key way for India to engage in the AsiaPacific and boost its strategic relevance to the world. ASEAN and India should therefore continue to work to make the RCEP a modern, comprehensive and high-quality agreement, and one which significantly improves on the terms of existing ASEAN+1 FTAs. With the fate of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) up in the air, countries are looking to conclude the RCEP to demonstrate their resolve in economic integration and trade liberalisation. India can play a leading role in corralling support for its early conclusion.
Second, there is a great opportunity for India and ASEAN to work closely in regional connectivity. Connectivity is important because it promotes trade, brings people closer, and integrates economies. Improving connectivity is essential for our region's prosperity, continued growth, and poverty reduction. Better connectivity lowers costs and increases reliability. In the absence of adequate connectivity, enormous opportunities generated by the dynamic growth centres of Asia may stop at their international borders. Connectivity between India and ASEAN may be seen in this perspective.
ASEAN welcomes Prime Minister Modi's announcement of a US$1 billion Line of Credit to promote Connectivity projects between ASEAN and India. We also appreciate India's initiatives on land connectivity, such as the trilateral India-Myanmar-Thailand Highway and the development of an India-Myanmar-Laos-Vietnam-Cambodia Highway - these are ground links and to complement them, air connectivity is essential. In this regard, a liberal ASEAN- India Air Transport Agreement will allow carriers to seize the golden opportunity, while linking key cities in ASEAN and in India. This will promote people-to-people links and facilitate the regional expansion of businesses across ASEAN and India.
We look forward to working with India on these areas this year as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of our relationship. As the global landscape evolves, it is all the more important for countries in Asia to forge closer regional ties, and to make a concerted push for global integration and cooperation. In this, India and ASEAN are natural partners. ASEAN has long supported a rising India, and we stand ready to work with you to build a prosperous, secure, and developed Asia. If we can make good progress, then we can look forward to the next chapter in ASEAN-India relations, with deeper engagement and more robust cooperation.
The bright side to the challenge of skill development is that the government recognizes India's favourable demographic dividend and is shouldering the responsibility of providing employment to millions of youth in a big way.