Giving a fresh impetus to its ties with ASEAN, India on Saturday said it would soon draft a five-year action plan starting 2016 for enhancing connectivity and cooperation in diverse areas and hoped the long-delayed free trade pact on services and investment will be signed later this month.
In her address at the 12th India-ASEAN meeting here, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said India wanted to take collaboration with the grouping to "new heights".
She said better communication links and enhanced trade and investment can bring about a "seamless integration" of the economies in the 10-member grouping.
Swaraj also spoke about the South China Sea issue and noted that India supports freedom of navigation and access to resources in accordance with principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
She said India expects to see progress with respect to implementation of "guidelines to the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the adoption of a Code of Conduct on the basis of consensus".
Fresh standoff started recently when China deployed a deep sea oil rig into waters close to the Paracel Islands, which, Vietnam, says belong to it. India's ONGC Videsh (OVL) has operations in oil blocks in hydrocarbon-rich South China Sea. China has been objecting to India's oil exploration projects in the disputed waters.
In her address, the External Affairs Minister particularly emphasised on improving connectivity between India and ASEAN countries. "To my mind, connectivity and trade and investment can bring about a seamless integration of our economic space and enable us to optimise our human and resource potential. I hope that our Economic and Trade Ministers will be able to sign the FTA on Services and Investment when they meet later this month and also agree on the modalities for setting up a dedicated ASEAN India Trade and Investment Centre," Swaraj told the meeting, her first engagement at a multilateral fora as External Affairs Minister.
The India-ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement was signed in August 2009 and it came into force on January 1, 2010. The FTA on services and investment is likely to be signed during meeting of Economic and Trade Ministers here later this month.
Swaraj also conveyed that the new government in India would like to stand with the grouping and take the relationship forward so that people's aspirations for growth and development could be fulfilled.
"As you are on the brink of achieving your long cherished goal of the ASEAN Community by 2015, I bring to you the assurance of the new Government in India that we would like to stand with you and take the trajectories of our common interests higher in the coming years, both in terms of achievement and relevance to our bilateral ASEAN+1 relationship and also in terms of the multilateral ambition at the regional and global levels," Swaraj said.
Strongly pitching for improvement in connectivity, the External Affairs Minister said India wanted connectivity in all its dimensions – geographic, institutional and people-to-
She also referred to 5Ts of government of India-- – Tradition, Talent, Tourism, Trade and Technology -- reflecting priority areas and noted that in foreign policy connectivity precedes them all.
"To the 5Ts of the Government of India – Tradition, Talent, Tourism, Trade and Technology, I would like to reiterate the value of a 'C' before them all in foreign policy – the 'C' of connectivity in all its dimensions, geographic, institutional and people-to-people.
"I would like this 'C' of connectivity to translate into tangible and urgent action on the ground, bringing our capacities together to mutual benefit," she said.
Talking about taking forward the ASEAN-India ties to the next level, she said India will soon draft an action plan in this regard. "We have an impressive array of 26 cross-sectoral annual dialogue mechanisms between ASEAN and India. We should soon be drafting our next Plan of Action for 2016-2021," Swaraj said.
"The ASEAN-India strategic partnership owes its strength to the fact that our 'Look East' to ASEAN meets your 'Look West' towards India. There is synergy and a sense of fraternity in our partnership, as we look towards a shared future of peace and stability, economic growth and prosperity in our region," she said.