5th FICCI Qual­ity Sys­tems Excellence Awards for In­dus­try

FICCI Business Digest - - News - Lim Thuan Kuan, Chair, ASEAN New Delhi Com­mit­tee (ANDC) and High Com­mis­sioner of Sin­ga­pore in New Delhi

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.

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