Harish Khare

Manmohan sets target of $50 billion by 2010; wants simpler visa regime for businessmen

Manmohan stresses India-ASEAN connectivity

Contributes $5 million for Green Fund

SINGAPORE: India has proposed to enhance bilateral trade with the ASEAN countries from the current $30 billion turnover to a target of $50 billion by 2010.

Addressing the 6th India-ASEAN summit here on Wednesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stressed on increased trade as a key element in the on-going search for “a robust institutional architecture for regional cooperation and action.”

He proposed a simpler visa regime for businessmen for travelling to and from India, whereby “bona fide” businessmen could get visa the same day.

Alluding to “a common political will” to have an India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, Dr. Singh assured the member-nations that “on its part India has shown and will continue to show the necessary flexibility and determination” to achieve this objective.

[Later, Commerce Secretary G.K. Pillai announced that the work on hammering out an FTA was more or less finished, with the two sides agreeing to devise a fourth category of “lists” — highly sensitive list — to tide over disagreements, and perhaps, distrust, over tariff reductions on various items of trade. The new category will consist of tea, coffee, and pepper (mostly traded with Vietnam) and crude palm oil and refined palm oil (mostly from Malaysia and Indonesia).]

Connectivity

Dr. Singh stressed on connectivity between India and the ASEAN region. As part of this search for connectivity in areas other than trade, he proposed to find $1 million for an India-ASEAN Science and Technology Fund. This fund would be used for collaborative research and development.

Referring to the common threat of Avian influenza in the region, Dr. Singh suggested work on an India-ASEAN Health Care Initiative, the focus of which should be on providing “basic drugs at low cost to our public health systems.”

India has proposed a joint network on climate change. Towards that end, the Prime Minister has made an initial contribution of $5 million to set up an India-ASEAN Green Fund.

Pointing out that the India-ASEAN joint relationship would not take deep roots unless it became a “people’s movement,” Dr. Singh suggested that the regional grouping should work for a target of one million tourists to India from ASEAN countries. According to him, more than two million tourists from India are expected to travel to ASEAN travel destinations.

Relationship

As far as India was concerned, the relationship with ASEAN countries was an essential element in New Delhi’s “Look East” policy, and Dr. Singh reiterated his determination to take forward the process of “integrating our economies, societies and institutions.” This, he told his ASEAN counterparts, was a “win-win formula for both of us.”

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