Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday said the second review of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) between India and Singapore is likely to be concluded soon and would further liberalise bilateral trade and give a fillip for deeper economic engagement.

Mr. Lee, who was here for the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit, told The Hindu that the second review had taken a long time and expressed hope that it would be concluded very soon. “We are willing to go forward and give a new shape to the partnership if India is willing to further liberalise the trade pact. We are looking for opening up of the banking sector, which it seems has been done. Also, we are looking at reforms in the labour sector and also very bullish about cooperation in the aviation sector. India needs to look at the sub-continent and liberalise its aviation policies further,” he said.

On the issue of connectivity with India and ASEAN, Mr. Lee said ASEAN was working on it. “We are talking about connectivity in a very broad sense. We are talking about physical connectivity like rail and air links. We are also talking about cooperation in telecommunication and energy, a gas network, an electricity grid and links out of ASEAN nations and regional partners, including India,” he said.

Explaining further, he said, for example, building a rail or road in China or out of Singapore were some of the projects where we hope Indian companies could take part and have an active role.

At the same time, he said it was hoped that India-ASEAN would further enhance other links and one big potential area was the air services agreement. “The business has been growing and the interest of the people in travelling in the region has been expanding rapidly. The flights and frequencies have increased over the past years but it still has not caught up and there is no reason to believe why we should not let it go. There might be some airlines talking about business issues but then as a whole the nation gains to a large extent,” he said.

Mr. Lee said the ASEAN-India free trade agreement (FTA) was now a comprehensive agreement in line with the other ASEAN +1 FTAs. He welcomed India’s full participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a mega FTA which ASEAN was working with dialogue partners. The RCEP talks were launched at the recent ASEAN Summit in Cambodia.

He noted that the ASEAN-India Eminent Persons Group had proposed many good ideas in skills development, vocational education and counter-terrorism and that ASEAN should pursue them vigorously. Economic relations have also blossomed, with ASEAN-India total trade rising more than 25 times between 1993 and 2011.

He complimented Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for being instrumental in strengthening India-ASEAN relations. From ASEAN’s point of view, it has become more important to strengthen ties with India because of its dramatic progress.

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