Ahead of the 20th anniversary of ASEAN-India dialogue relationship, visiting diplomats from the South-east Asian region have stressed the improvement of physical connectivity between the North East and Myanmar is must for full realisation of India's Look East Policy.
Official sources said that the diplomats, who visited the North East Agri Expo 2012 at Dimapur and Kohima for the past two days ahead of the proposed ASEAN-India car rally, expected that after Myanmar's taking over the chairmanship of the 10-member regional block in 2014, infrastructure development on both sides of the two neighbours would receive priority. This was so as North-East India was gateway to South-east Asia through Myanmar.
ASEAN and India will mark the 20th anniversary of their dialogue relations with a commemorative summit in New Delhi next month which will be inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, sources said.
A number of commemorative activities, including a car rally, have been planned to signify the expanding and deepening of the dialogue partnership, sources said.
The car rally which will kick off in Jakarta (Indonesia) on November 26 will pass through Manipur, Nagaland and Assam and culminate in New Delhi on December 20 in the presence of the Prime Minister.
ASEAN, which had already signed a comprehensive free trade treaty with India, would be "a community of nations of free people, goods and services" in 2015, Thailand Ambassador to India Pisan Manawapat told newsmen here yesterday. Thailand is now chairing ASEAN.
Highlighting the expanding relationships between the two sides in areas of security, trade, commerce, tourism, culture and people-to-people contacts from the stage of a dialogue partnership in 2003, he stressed that physical connectivity between North-east and Myanmar must get priority for realisation of economic benefits to the region under the India’s Look East Policy.
The envoy hoped this initiative would be expedited after Myanmar's taking over the chairmanship of ASEAN in 2014 keeping in view various agreements and treaties such as Mekong-Ganga Cooperation, BIMSTEC and others for enhancing and accelerating regional cooperation.
The diplomat said with better and easier connectivity, the North-east could be the gateway to ASEAN region and both Nagaland and Assam could reap immense economic benefit out of such enhanced cooperation.
He was confident that the changing political situation in Myanmar would act as a catalyst for easier connectivity between South-east Asia and India through the north-eastern states.
Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio also insisted that the improvement of physical connectivity between the North-east and Myanmar was crucial for the success of 'Look East Policy' which entails enhanced cooperation between India and south-east and east Asia in many areas.
Stating that the closer ties with ASEAN region would benefit the North-east in many areas, the chief minister said "one can not have a better bridge than Nagaland for connectivity to South-east Asia due to its close proximity".
He, however, regretted that the pace of infrastructure development has been slow in the border states despite the fact that the idea of 'Look East Policy' was mooted two decades ago.
He assured the visiting diplomats and external affairs ministry officials to make the proposed car rally a great success by extending all necessary cooperation.
Diplomats from Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Lao PDR were in Nagaland and Assam to oversee the preparation for the car rally which will arrive at Kohima on November 15 and reach Guwahati on November 17 where it will be received by Union Commerce Minister Anand Sharma.
The first India-ASEAN car rally with CII as partner was organised in November-December 2004 which started from New Delhi and ended in Indonesia traversing 8,000km.
The second car rally is being organised on the reverse route jointly by the external affairs ministry, member states of ASEAN, CII and Federation of Motor Sports Clubs of India.
Altogether 31 Mahindra XUV vehicles with 124 participants from 11 nations would take part in the rally, CII Nagaland chapter president Aotoshi Thakar informed. ASEAN-India relations have grown rapidly from a sectoral dialogue partnership in 1992 to a full dialogue partnership in December 1995. The relationship was elevated to a greater height encompassing many areas of mutual interests with holding of annual ASEAN-India Summit since 2002.
Throughout the decade, series of consultative meetings, ministerial level meetings and summits were held for expanding and consolidating cooperation framework between ASEAN and India.
Some important landmarks of this initiative were formation of ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), Post Ministerial Conference (PMC) 10+1, East Asia Summit (EAS), Mekong-Ganga Cooperation, Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), ASEAN-India Plan of Action for 2010-1015 and ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement in 2009 after six years of negotiations.
The signing of the Trade in Goods Agreement, which came into effect from January 2010, paved the way for creation of one of the world’s largest free trade areas (FTA) with a population of 1.8 billion and a combined GDP of $2.8 trillion (US).
As per the ASEAN secretariat data, the trade between ASEAN and India in 2011 stood at $68.40 billion, a growth of 23.40% over 2010. However, this accounted for only 2.9% of total ASEAN trade.
Leaders from both sides reaffirmed their commitment to achieve a bilateral trade target of $70 billion. As far as FDI was concerned, the inflow from India to ASEAN member states was $1.8 billion in 2011, a decline of 154% from $3.40 billion in 2010.
After agreeing to free movement of goods in the region, ASEAN and India are currently negotiating a free trade regime in services and investment removing the barriers.