India was scaling “new heights” in its ties with ASEAN countries and was set for a “defining partnership” with the south-east Asian multi-nation group, a senior MEA official said on Wednesday. India’s trade with the ASEAN countries increased by USD 5 billion to USD 70 billion in the last one year, Preeti Saran, Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs, said in her keynote address to a session of Delhi Dialogue IX — an annual conference of Indian and south-east Asian political and business leaders, academics and others.
The country was “expeditiously” implementing connectivity projects in the region, especially the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, she added. “After almost two years of slow growth, ASEAN-India trade is now back on track. India’s trade with the ASEAN countries increased to USD 70 billion in 2016-17 from USD 65 billion in 2015-16. Our exports to these countries increased to USD 30
billion in 2016-17 from USD 25 billion in 2015-16,” she said.
She asserted that India’s linkages with ASEAN countries spread “not through conquests”, but essentially through “non-political agents” such as merchants and religious leaders. “Our efforts are to make the India-ASEAN partnership scale new heights and make it a defining one of our times. I would say that the theme of Delhi Dialogue IX — India and the ASEAN – Charting the Course for the Next 25 years — aptly summarises our endeavours in this regard,” said Saran.
The event coincides with the 25th year of India’s ties with the Association of South-East Asian Nations, a regional grouping comprising 10 south-east Asian countries, which promotes inter-governmental cooperation and facilitates economic, political, military, educational and cultural integration among its members and other Asian nations. Saran also talked about some ongoing projects.
Once completed, the Trilateral Highway project would provide a seamless connectivity from Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in Thailand via Myanmar, she said, adding that extending the highway to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam was being considered. Work is in progress on the Kaladan Multimodal Transport project for a road and riverine link between Myanmar and Mizoram and which would connect Indian ports to the Sittwe port in Myanmar.
“Discussions on an India-Myanmar-Thailand motor vehicles agreement are underway. A task force for maritime connectivity and ASEAN-India working groups on regional air services and shipping arrangements have also been set up,” she added. India had also put forward specific proposals regarding the installation of a regional high-capacity fibre-optic network, supplemented by national rural broadband networks and digital villages in remote areas, said Saran.
As part of the silver jubilee commemorative activities of the ASEAN-India dialogue partnership, the country would be organising a CEOs’ forum and an ASEAN-India business summit, in addition to other trade promotion events, she said. A regional ‘Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas’ with the Indian diaspora in the ASEAN countries would be organised later this year.