Keen to tap the booming services market in Southeast Asia, India has pressed for an early conclusion of talks with the 10-member ASEAN on trade in services and investments to create an Asian economic community.

“We attach high importance to the early conclusion of negotiations on the trade in services and investment agreement and we should direct our officials accordingly,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at the 7th India-ASEAN summit here last evening.

“Our engagement with the ASEAN countries is a key element of India’s vision of an Asian economic community. India wishes to partner ASEAN in realising this vision on the basis of mutual benefit, mutual prosperity and mutual respect,” Singh said.

After India signed the Free Trade Agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in August, the two sides have started negotiations to broadbase the pact to include investment and services.

The FTA is now limited to trade in goods. With services contributing 55 per cent of its economy, India is quite keen on tapping the growing services market in Southeast Asia.

Singh expressed confidence that the two-way trade between India and ASEAN would touch USD 50 billion by 2010.

ASEAN’s 10 member countries are Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Brunei, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines.

“We (India-ASEAN) should aim for an even higher target for our trade turnover,” Singh said. India—ASEAN trade was estimated at USD 48 billion in 2008.

He said the Free Trade Agreement is a first major step towards creating an India-ASEAN regional trade and investment area.

Singh also proposed steps like intensification of talks on an open-skies policy, simplification of the visa regime to encourage business and tourist travel to further strengthen the two-way ties.

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