Asean and India should enhance trade, investments and connectivity: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, for a bilateral meeting on Jan 25, 2018. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

NEW DELHI - As Asean leaders gather in New Delhi to celebrate the silver jubilee of Asean-India relations, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called on the two sides to take the relationship forward by enhancing trade, investments and connectivity.

These are "promising areas of mutually beneficial collaboration" between Asean and India, he said, stressing the need to integrate further at a time when the global strategic balance is shifting.

He added that the two sides should work together to tackle emerging transboundary challenges such as terrorism, cybercrime and climate change.

Writing in an op-ed article on Thursday (Jan 25) in his capacity as Asean chair, he said the two sides should work towards concluding the Regional Comprehesive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a proposed high quality trade pact involving Asean and six countries, including India.

He said: "This would create an integrated Asian market comprising nearly half the world's population and a third of the world's GDP.

"Stream-lining rules and regulations will stimulate investments in both directions, complement India's 'Act East' policy and facilitate 'Made in India' exports to the region."

On connectivity, he said greater land, air, sea and digital connectivity would bring benefits to the people of Asean and India.

Some examples of potential tie-ups he cited include connecting e-payment systems and concluding the Asean-India Air Transport Agreement.

He also called for a network of smart cities linking Asean cities to the 100 smart cities India is aiming to complete.

The article was published in Indian newspapers on the day Asean leaders and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meet for the Asean-India Commemorative Summit.

The summit marks 25 years since India became an Asean dialogue partner. Since then, Asean-India relations have been upgraded into a strategic partnership.

The celebrations in New Delhi this week will culminate in the 10 Asean leaders attending India's 69th Republic Day Parade as chief guests. This is the first time India is inviting 10 chief guests - an honour usually extended to just one foreign leader each year.

Mr Lee said Asean leaders are "deeply honoured" by the gesture.

Pointing to the great potential in Asean-India integration, he noted that Asean and India have one-quarter of the world's population and a combined GDP of US$4.5 trillion.

But there is "still have much scope to grow our ties - India accounted for only 2.6 per cent of Asean's external trade in 2016", he wrote.

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