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Statement by Minister of State for External Affairs following interventions by ASEAN Foreign Ministers

August 06, 2015

  • Excellencies, I have listened with great interest to the valuable suggestions and priorities you have identified for the future direction of ASEAN-India engagement.
  • I agree that we have a lot of potential for substantially enhancing our engagement in all the three verticals of our relations, i.e. political-security, economic and socio-cultural.
  • We have made a steady beginning in the field of political-security cooperation.
  • To brainstorm ideas for strengthening cooperation and coordination in addressing issues relating to cyber-crime, the ASEAN-India Centre organized an ASEAN-India Cyber Security Conference in January this year. We wish to institutionalise our dialogue in this important domain and would be hosting the second conference in January 2016.
  • A multi-agency counter terrorism delegation from India also visited the ASEAN CT Centres of Excellence in Kuala Lumpur, Semarang and Bangkok in July 2015 to discuss modalities for concrete cooperation in combating terrorism and other transnational crimes.
  • The 7th edition of the Delhi Dialogue on 11-12 March 2015, which some of you attended, had an intensive discussion on regional geopolitical issues. Similarly, the 4th ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks meeting which will take place in Kuala Lumpur later this week (on 7-8 August 2015) will cover issues relating to non-traditional security such as maritime security, international terrorism, cyber security, money laundering, terrorist financing, human trafficking, drugs smuggling, etc. The deliberations will feed into developing a concrete action plan for ASEAN-India cooperation in these fields in the coming years.
  • Our Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and Central Bureau of Investigation will also be holding a few capacity building training programmes for law enforcement officials from ASEAN Member States in the coming months.
  • In the economic sphere, we are happy to learn that following the completion of requisite domestic procedures, the ASEAN-India Trade-in-Services and Investment Agreements have come into force on 1st of July this year for India, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, and the Trade-in-Services Agreement for Viet Nam. Lao PDR has also completed the ratification process for the Trade-in-Services Agreement which will come into force on 15 September 2015. I would request colleagues from the remaining countries to also kindly ensure early completion of their respective ratification processes.
  • I understand that our Economic & Trade Ministers had a very productive meeting on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP) in Kuala Lumpur last month, and will be meeting again later this month. Parties to the RCEP showed considerable flexibility in negotiations during the Kuala Lumpur Ministerial and the modalities for the Services and Investment Agreements have been agreed upon. We hope that we can also find convergence on modalities for the Trade-in-Goods Agreement very soon. This will enable us to conclude substantive negotiations on the Agreement by the end of the year.
  • Furthermore, our Economic Ministers have agreed to revive the Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC) to undertake a comprehensive review of the ASEAN-India Trade-in-Goods Agreement signed in 2010. They will be discussing the Terms of Reference for the TNC at their forthcoming meeting later this month.
  • Excellencies, As per the Baseline Profitability Index, India was ranked the No. 1 investment destination in the world in 2015. Our Government has launched a series of major national programmes to facilitate investment, innovation, skill development, and building best-in-class manufacturing infrastructure. We are also focusing on modernisation of urban settlements, building new smart cities and empowering citizens through access to digital services.
  • Similarly, the coming together of the 10 ASEAN Member States as a single Economic Community by the end of this year will unleash large investment potential. I believe that the time is ripe for the private sectors from both sides to join hands in harnessing these business opportunities.
  • Inadequate awareness about mutual investment opportunities and under-utilisation of the ASEAN-India FTA on both sides remain a key concern. We hope that regular business dialogues, such as the one organised on the margins of Delhi Dialogue VII in March 2015, and by the ASEAN-India Business Council in Kuala Lumpur in May 2015, will help in spreading awareness about mutual investment opportunities and the benefits of the FTA, and lead to its optimal utilisation.
  • Simultaneously, for us to be able to take maximum advantage of the ASEAN-India Services Agreement, we will have to seriously look at the issue of mutual recognition of educational degrees and certificates.
  • Excellencies, You would agree that India is a unique Dialogue Partner of ASEAN in terms of the extent of historical and civilizational linkages it shares with South East Asian countries. Our social mores, culture and value systems have been deeply influenced by a process of co-mingling that happened over two millennia.
  • As a first step in our endeavour to establish research partnerships between universities and academics in India and ASEAN to work on producing high-quality research papers on the entire gamut of the historical and cultural links between India and South East Asia, a theme that is particularly close to our Prime Minister's heart, the ASEAN-India Centre organised the first International Conference on "ASEAN-India Cultural Links: Historical and Contemporary Dimensions” in New Delhi on 23-24 July 2015. We will also hold a second conference on our historical and cultural linkages in Jakarta in the coming months to take this initiative forward.
  • The importance of connectivity in furthering business and people-to-people contacts cannot be overstated. I am glad that we have made considerable progress in enhancing connectivity cooperation, including the commencement of negotiations on an India-Myanmar-Thailand Motor Vehicles Agreement and an ASEAN-India Maritime Transport Cooperation Agreement. We have also agreed to set up an ASEAN-India Civil Aviation Task Force to oversee optimisation of air connectivity in all its dimensions. Our Civil Aviation experts should find ways to complete the unutilized 18 sectors connecting Tier II and Tier III cities in India to tourist and business destinations in ASEAN.
  • Following up on the announcement by our Prime Minister at the 12th ASEAN-India Summit in Nay Pyi Taw in November 2014, we are working out modalities for setting up a Special Facility to promote connectivity projects in ASEAN, and will seek the active support of your governments in partnering this initiative.
  • Digital Technologies have emerged as catalysts for rapid economic growth and citizen empowerment across the globe. As part of our digital connectivity initiatives, we are exploring the setting up of information highways or i-ways between India and ASEAN.
  • We are, moreover, looking at undertaking an evergrowing number of projects to support the Initiative for ASEAN Integration and Narrowing the Intra-ASEAN Development Gap. Training programmes for experts from capital markets of CLMV countries at the National Institute for Securities Markets, Mumbai are ongoing. We have imparted intensive English language and IT training to law enforcement officers from Myanmar, and are contemplating similar training programmes in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Viet Nam.
  • We are working with Viet Nam to set up a new Centre for English Language & IT Training at Nha Trang Telecommunications University, and are also favourably considering proposals to set up additional Entrepreneurship Development Centres, Centres for English Language Training and Vocational Training Centres in Cambodia and Lao PDR.
  • We have offered scholarships for 6 students from CLMV countries to pursue Master’s Degree courses at Nalanda University from the academic year commencing August 2015.
  • The need for strengthening the capacity of the ASEAN Secretariat has long been felt. As a modest contribution towards this, we have offered 5 annual scholarships to ASEAN Secretariat officials to undertake short-duration training programmes in India in IT, management, audit, accounting and other specialised technical fields.
  • I am particularly happy to note that some of our flagship, high value projects are ready for take-off. The most significant among these is the implementation of the USD 21.53 million project on Establishment of a Tracking and Data Reception Station and Data Processing Facility for ASEAN at Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, upgrading of the existing station at Biak, Indonesia and Training of ASEAN Personnel in Space Science & Technology in Dehradun, India. Scientists from ISRO, our space agency, have already visited Viet Nam and Indonesia to finalise work plans and other modalities such as site selection.
  • We have also signed an MOU for setting up a Centre of Excellence in Software Development and Training in Cambodia, and expect to sign similar MOUs with Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam very soon. The budget for setting up these four Centres and carrying out associated training programmes is close to USD 8.7 million.
  • The ASEAN-India Green Fund set up for financing projects in the field of biodiversity conservation and climate change adaptation and mitigation is also being put to good use. A USD 1 million project envisaging a range of collaborative activities between the National Biodiversity Authority of India and the ASEAN Biodiversity Centre in Manila has been approved. Work on two other projects in the field of climate change, with a combined budget of USD 1 million, is also proceeding apace.
  • Other regular training and joint research programmes in the field of agriculture, science & technology etc., are progressing well. India hosted the Kick off Workshop on Combating Malaria in New Delhi in May 2015, which has resulted in several implementable outcomes. We would also be hosting a Kick-off Workshop on Mariculture, Biomining and Bioremediation in Goa on 16-17 August, 2015.
  • Our Agriculture Ministers shall also be adopting a new five-year Plan of Action in the field of Agriculture at their forthcoming meeting in Makati in The Philippines on 11 September 2015, envisaging high-end research collaboration in climate resistant, high yield rice hybrids, reproductive technologies for buffaloes and small ruminates, capacity building in farm mechanisation, curbing post-harvest losses, managing food price volatility, and exchange of agricultural scientists, research fellows, students, farmers, women cooperative representatives, and others.
  • Excellencies, On 20th June 2015 the ASEAN-India Centre in New Delhi completed two years, during which it has organised 26 events, brought out a dozen books and publications, and concluded 6 major studies. The MOU on the establishment of the ASEAN-India Centre is being finalised in a way that would enable ASEAN Member States to depute their officials and academics to the Centre.
  • I also hope that our Economic Ministers, when they meet later this month, can accord approval to the setting up of the ASEAN-India Trade & Investment Centre, which our Ministry of Commerce & Industry has agreed to fully fund and run through the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry.
  • These two centres, when fully operational, would contribute immensely through policy research inputs and information dissemination, in furthering the ASEAN-India partnership agenda.
  • We share the concerns expressed by our ASEAN colleagues about the evolving situation in the South China Sea. Freedom of navigation in international waters including in the South China Sea,the right of passage and overflight, unimpeded commerce and access to resources in accordance with the principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, are issues of concern to us all. India hopes that all parties to the disputes in the SCS region will abide by the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and work together to ensure peaceful resolution of disputes. We remain supportive of efforts for the early conclusion of a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, by a process of consensus.
  • As regards the regional security architecture, I am pleased to share that India co-hosted with Cambodia the 4th workshop in Phnom Penh on 20-21 July 2015. The Workshop discussed at some length a number of very useful and constructive ideas that have been presented by Russia, China, Indonesia, India and Japan. We welcome the understanding that any future framework must be centred on the EAS as a premier Leaders-led forum for dialogue on strategic issues and reinforce ASEAN centrality.
  • To conclude, I would like to mention that in two years time, we will be celebrating the 25thAnniversary of our Dialogue Relationship with ASEAN. We would like to hear from you, over the coming months, suggestions on how we can celebrate this historic milestone in a befitting manner.
Thank you for your attention.