Wooing the 10-member ASEAN bloc to increase its economic engagement with India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Wednesday said his government has embarked on a “new economic journey” and places equal emphasis on ease of doing business in India as well as on making policies attractive.
In his maiden speech at the ASEAN-India Summit here, Modi said his government was laying stress on infrastructure, manufacturing, trade, agriculture, skill development, urban renewal and smart cities.
“Make in India is a new mission. I invite you to this new environment in India. Indian companies are also keen to invest in and trade with ASEAN,” he said.
On the issue of maritime trade and passage, a touchy subject in the Southeast Asian region especially in the context of China’s growing assertiveness over the South China Sea, Modi said everyone has the responsibility to follow international law and norms on maritime issues, as is done in the realm of air passage.
“In future, we will also need this in space,” he said.
Referring to the South China Sea, he said that for peace and stability, everyone should follow international norms and law.
“This includes the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. We also hope that you will be able to successfully implement the Guidelines to the 2002 Declaration on Conduct and that the Code of Conduct on South China Sea can be concluded soon on the basis of consensus.”
He also assured the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that there will be major improvement in India’s trade policy and environment and his government would move ahead with connectivity projects with ASEAN “with speed”.
He suggested that a review be conducted of the India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement on goods to improve it further and make it beneficial to all.
Modi appealed for the FTA on Services and Investment, which still awaits inking, to “be brought into force at the earliest”.
He said that to deepen connectivity with ASEAN, a special purpose vehicle is proposed to be set up to facilitate financing and quick implementation of projects.
Modi stressed the need for Information Highways or i-ways between India and ASEAN.
“My experience is that even where road connectivity is poor, we can create vast economic opportunities and employment through i-ways,” he said.
He added that India was prepared to provide all assistance and cooperation in this area.
He also invited the ASEAN bloc to “come and participate in building India’s 100 smart cities and renewal of 500 cities”.
He proposed cooperation in science and technology and renewable energy.
The prime minister also proposed a major ASEAN India Solar Project for research, manufacturing and deployment.
In the field of space science, Modi proposed a new India-ASEAN Space-related Ground Station in Vietnam and to upgrade the existing station in Indonesia.
In disaster risk reduction, response and management, he said India was prepared to offer full assistance in capacity building, coordination and response in the region.
He proposed closer cooperation in health, including traditional medicine, climate change and environment and forests as well as agriculture and food security.
Modi also said that both sides should move quickly towards mutual recognition of degrees, a major stumbling block in the inking of the FTA on goods and services.
Referring to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which is being negotiated, Modi said it can become 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.
“I assure you of my sustained personal attention to relations with ASEAN so that we can meet our high expectations from this relationship,” he said.
The ASEAN members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam.