India-Asean summit begins in Delhi, FTA to be key highlight

New Delhi: India and the 10-nation ASEAN will hold a two-day commemorative summit starting on Thursday that is expected to culminate in a free trade agreement (FTA) in services and a vision document on scaling up ties across diverse areas, including trade, energy, security and cultural connectivity.

The ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit, which New Delhi is hosting for the first time, commemorates the 10th anniversary of the summit-level meeting between ASEAN and India and the 20th anniversary of sectoral dialogue partnership between the two sides.

Heads of state/governments of all Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) except the Philippines, which will be represented by its vice-president, are to participate in the summit with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The event is expected to culminate in an all-embracing vision document based on recommendations from the Eminent Persons Group.

After the plenary on Thursday, there will be a ceremonial flag-down of the ASEAN car rally by leaders of the ASEAN countries. Manmohan Singh will host a lunch for the visiting leaders on Friday.

The showpiece of the summit is expected to be the formal announcement of the conclusion of negotiations on a free trade agreement on services and investment, a defining step that will accelerate India’s engagements with this economically vibrant region.

There is a new vibrancy in economic ties. ASEAN-India trade has been growing over 22 percent during the last six years.

Since the signing of the ASEAN-India trade in goods agreement in 2009 and its implementation since last year, bilateral trade during 2011-12 has increased by more than 37 percent.

The trade is estimated to be around $79 billion and the two sides have set a target of $100 billion by 2015.

“The Look East Policy now has a new impetus and that is spurred by our growing relations with our close neighbours  in southeast Asia,” said Sanjay Bhattacharyya, joint secretary (south) in  India’s external affairs ministry.

Besides multilateral diplomacy, Manmohan Singh will hold bilateral talks with leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar. Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia on the sidelines of the two-day commemorative summit.

In November, Manmohan Singh met leaders of Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Brunei and Myanmar in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.

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