Acknowledging India’s economic slowdown this year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday said the country is still expected to witness a 7.5 per cent growth as he pressed for greater flow of trade, investments and services from East Asian nations.
The Prime Minister referred to the eurozone crisis, saying it showed “several signs of stress” and wanted the Asian countries to send a message of solidarity to Europe as they had a stake in early resolution of the problem.
Addressing the 18-member East Asia Summit, Dr. Singh pushed for putting in place a Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia (CEPEA) as part of economic integration of the region.
“The global economic situation is showing several signs of stress. However, the emerging market countries in Asia are growing well and are in fact contributing to the recovery of the world economy,” he said, noting that India was part of this process.
“We have grown at an average of 8.4 per cent in the past five years. Like other countries we too have slowed down in 2011, but we still expect to grow around 7.5 per cent,” Dr. Singh told the Summit, attended by U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
Observing that no one can prosper in isolation, he said “the most serious fault line at present is what is happening in the eurozone.”
“Against the global economic background that we are in, it is all the more important that we give full play to flows of trade, investment, services and ideas among ourselves,” Dr. Singh said.
He underlined the need for persevering with the project of East Asian economic integration and making efforts towards a CEPEA.
India was working actively to integrate with East Asian region, the Prime Minister said while pointing out that New Delhi was in the process of finalising a CEPEA with the 10-member ASEAN.
He said India had concluded similar agreements with Korea, Malaysia and Japan and commenced negotiations for a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement with Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand.
Dr. Singh said several useful reports and studies by the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia have been produced and they contain proposals which can be taken forward, including a Comprehensive Asian Development Plan to enhance connectivity in the region.
“The channelling of investible surpluses from Asia and the rest of the world into some of these projects will have a direct impact on the real economy of the region and on job creation, and will also stimulate global growth,” Dr. Singh said.
He said rapid economic growth was the most enduring strategy to overcome the global economic slowdown.
“We should keep our focus on the development agenda, make sure our growth is environmentally sustainable, find new and renewable technologies to fuel our growth and invest in education and skill development,” he said, adding that the EAS was ideally equipped to pursue such an agenda.
Talking about the EAS process and the progress it has made in the last six years, Dr. Singh emphasised that it must be centered on the ASEAN.
“ASEAN should be its (EAS’) driving force. We must move at a pace and in the direction with which the ASEAN countries are comfortable, and which responds to their concerns and priorities,” he said.
The U.S. and Russia joined the East Asia Summit on Saturday as full members, giving rise to apprehensions among some quarters that feel that Washington would hijack it.
Observing that political and security issues have increasingly become a part of the discourse in the region, Dr. Singh said “we believe that while respecting differences and ensuring synergy between different forums, the East Asia Summit provides an opportunity to discuss all issues.”
He said the Summit can contribute to enhancing mutual understanding and promoting peace, stability and security.
Dr. Singh said the EAS forum also gave an opportunity to discuss common challenges such as terrorism, prevention and response to natural disasters, piracy, protecting sea lanes of communication and drug trafficking.
“India would be happy to share its expertise in the areas of disaster management and maritime security,” he said, adding that New Delhi was already working with several countries in combating piracy.
India has offered to host next year an EAS Workshop on disaster management and relief in the case of an occurrence of an earthquake.
“The East Asia Summit process is still work in progress but I believe we are on the right track. India is committed to the success of this process,” Dr. Singh said.
The Prime Minister said that the resurgence of Asia was dependent on the evolution of a cooperative architecture in which all countries were equal participants and India would work with all other countries towards this end.