The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is keen on firming up an “open skies regime” with India, ASEAN Deputy Secretary-General S. Pushpanathan said here on Saturday.

An open skies regime with India would enhance air connectivity, which was key to integration of regional markets, he said participating in a plenary session on “From Regional Integration to Global Partnerships” at the Partnership Summit of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

The ASEAN-India Aviation Cooperation Framework sets a preface for moving to an India-ASEAN open skies regime.

While ASEAN expected to firm up the open skies regime with India in “the next few years,” it expected to finalise a similar pact with China by year-end, Mr. Pushpanathan said.

Trade volume

Pointing out that one of the key trends was an increasing volume of trade within the region, the official said ASEAN was also looking at a wider Free Trade Agreement (FTA) involving India, Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand.

A “mutual recognition arrangement” was being mooted to ensure freer movement of labour within ASEAN, he said.

Tarun Khanna, Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School, U.S., said intra-regional trade was likely to increase within the broader framework of global partnerships as similar countries became natural partners. The bulk of south-south trade would be dominated by trade between similar countries.

Financial inclusion and talent inclusion were the important challenges common to countries in the region. For instance, over 90 per cent of the talent in India was employed in the unorganised sector. Harnessing human capital by bringing this vast majority into the financial mainstream posed a key challenge, Mr. Khanna said.

Patricia Hewitt, MP and Chair, U.K. India Business Council, U.K., said multilateral trade deals were important for the smaller countries. However, multilateral agreements should not be unfair or lopsided, and should be drafted in the spirit of equal partnership and mutual respect. Greg Mills, head of the Brenthurst Foundation, South Africa, said the outcome of the trade negotiations at Doha was not the ultimate determinant of African prosperity. In fact, a changed policy regime that addressed logistics, infrastructural constraints and high transaction costs was the key to building business and accessing international markets.

He pointed to a recent study which showed that $17 billion could be saved by efficiency improvement alone in a country that spent close to $45 billion annually on infrastructure.

Michael Yeoh, CEO, Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute, Malaysia, chaired the session. Syamal Gupta, Chairman Emeritus, CII Africa and ASEAN Committees, spoke.

ASEAN looking at wider FTA involving India, Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand

Financial inclusion, talent inclusion main challenges