With the business of diplomacy being increasingly business, India’s reform-minded prime minister has robustly pitched for increased investment and deployment of expertise from ASEAN countries in his pet project of urbanisation and economic renewal in Asia’s third largest economy.
Attending his first India-ASEAN summit in Myanmar’s capital November 12, Narendra Modi alluded to “a new economic journey in India” and sought greater investments from ASEAN countries in the priority sectors identified by his government: infrastructure, manufacturing, trade, agriculture, skill development, urban renewal, smart cities.
“Make in India is a new mission. We are placing as much emphasis on ease of doing business in India as we are on making policies attractive. I invite you to this new environment in India. Indian companies are also keep to invest in and trade with ASEAN,” he told the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Underlining speedy decision-making and speedy action as his driving mantra, Mr Modi assured the ASEAN leaders that “there will be major improvement our trade policy and environment.” “We will also move ahead with connectivity projects with ASEAN with speed,” he said at the sprawling Myanmar International Convention Centre
Significantly, Mr Modi exhorted the two sides to conduct a review of the 2009 India-ASEAN free trade agreement in goods “to improve it further and make it beneficial to all.” “I also urge that the FTA on Service and Investment be brought into force at the earliest,” he said. India and ASEAN are looking to scale up bilateral trade to $100 billion by 2015 and double that volume by 2022. The two-way investments are on an upswing: ASEAN investments in India over the last eight years amounted USD 27.9 billion, and Indian investments in ASEAN reached $32.4 billion.
The 61-year-old Indian leader, known for his robust economic diplomacy during over five months he has been at the helm, backed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RECP). “It can be a springboard for economic integration and prosperity in the region. However, we should aim for a balanced agreement, which is beneficial to all; and, is truly comprehensive in nature, by equally ambitious agenda with similar timelines for goods and services,” he said.
Another important suggestion that emanated from the Indian leader was his proposal for a special facility or special purpose vehicle to facilitate project financing and quick implementation of connectivity projects.
An ardent proponent of bolstering digital infrastructure, Mr Modi stressed that in this wired world, “more than physical connectivity, we need Information Highways or i-ways.”
“My experience is that even where road connectivity is poor, we can create vast economic opportunities and employment through i-ways. India is prepared to provide all assistance and cooperation in this area.”
Pitching the India-ASEAN relationship onto a higher trajectory, Mr Modi stressed that there are “no irritants” in the India-ASEAN relationship and underscored that the two can be “great partners” for each other.
“The ASEAN community is India’s neighbour. We have ancient relations of trade, religion, culture, art and traditions. We have enriched each other through our interaction. This constitutes a strong foundation of a modern relationship,” Modi said in his opening statement in Hindi at the 12th India—ASEAN summit in the Myanmarese capital. “That is why our world view is similar in many respects; our mutual confidence and trust is strong. We have no irritants in our relationship. We see encouraging opportunities and challenges in the world in similar ways,” he said.
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