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Speeches & Statements

​Keynote Address by Secretary (East) at the Inaugural Session of the Conference on ASEAN-India Co-operation in Food Security, Agriculture Technology & Food Engineering, Run-up Event for Delhi Dialogue VII 2015, in Mumbai (February 12, 2015)

February 12, 2015


Mr. Vijay Kalantari, President, All India Association of Industries,
Members of the business community and the diplomatic corps,
Distinguished Panelists,
Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

  • It gives me immense pleasure to be here today to deliver the Keynote Address at the 'Conference on ASEAN-India Co-operation in Food Security, Agriculture Technology & Food Engineering' organized by the All India Association of Industries in partnership with the World Trade Centre, Mumbai, bringing together stakeholders from Government, Business as well as Academic and Research Organizations to deliberate on the vast and largely untapped potential of collaboration between India and ASEAN in the Agri Food Sector.
  • Ever since the new government has taken charge, the increased focus on India's eastern neighborhood and beyond is clearly discernible with vists by Prime Minister Modi to Japan, Myanmar, Australia and Fiji within months of assuming charge, and high level visits from Australia, Vietnam and Singapore to India. During his visit to Myanmar last November for the ASEAN-India Summit and East Asia Summit, Prime Minister observed that his government has moved with a great sense of priority and speed to turn India’s ‘Look East Policy’ into an ‘Act East Policy’. He placed ASEAN at the core of India's Act East Policy and at the centre of our dream of an Asian century.
  • Since India became a Sectoral Partner of the ASEAN in 1992, the potential and scope of the India-ASEAN partnership has grown commensurate with the increase in our collective capacities and our growing economic integration. We hosted the Commemorative Summit in New Delhi in December 2012 to mark 20 years of ASEAN-India relations, where we decided to elevate our relationship to a Strategic Partnership.
  • We have today 26 annual dialogue mechanisms with the ASEAN, including a Summit and seven Ministerial level meetings in key sectors, including, notably, agriculture. Our Ministers and officials meet regularly to expand our collaborative agenda, while our Leaders meet every year to provide overall vision and guidance to the relationship.
  • Cooperation in agriculture and forestry forms an important part of this collaborative agenda between ASEAN and India. The Vision Statement adopted during the 2012 Commemorative Summit recognised the need to ensure long-term food security in the region and welcomed the efforts to strengthen cooperation in the agriculture sector between ASEAN and India.
  • Our officials have been exchanging views through the ASEAN-India Working Group on Agriculture established in 2011. The first Ministerial Meeting on Agriculture and Forestry also took place in 2011 in Jakarta which endorsed a Medium-Term Plan of Action for ASEAN-India Cooperation in Agriculture and Forestry for the period 2011-2015. Our Ministers have met thrice so far and the fourth ASEAN-India Agriculture Ministers Meeting will be hosted by India this year. We have been engaged in several projects of mutual interest and our experts, farmers, agricultural scientists and officials meet regularly to take forward our collaborative agenda.
  • We all acknowledge that agriculture and food security is one of the key components of a nation's overall growth plan. It is not just the growth in GDP but the ability to ensure food and nutrition security at affordable and stable prices in an ecologically sustainable paradigm that is fundamental to long term global peace and stability. Agriculture is particularly important in the context of our region as most of our populations depend on it for survival. It is also crucial for supplying raw materials to our booming manufacturing sector.
  • In India, agriculture and the food industry play a vital role in the economy as well as our daily lives. Over 70 per cent of rural households depend on agriculture as their principal means of livelihood. We had the Green Revolution and the White Revolution which paved the way for self-sufficieny in food and dairy products. In recent years, India has made huge strides in the field of agriculture and allied sectors. Moving beyond mere self sufficiency in food, we have done extremely well in horticulture, dairy, milk production and fisheries, and are working towards improving post harvest management and development of cold chain infrastructure. Our agriculture research system through the Indian Council of Agriculture Research is one of the largest in the world.
  • Agriculture is equally important for ASEAN as the majority of ASEAN countries are agrarian economies and rely heavily on the agro-food sector for economic growth, trade and investment. A number of ASEAN countries are among the top exporters globally for products like rice, fruits, vegetables and coffee and the region is also a global leader in industrial crops such as palm oil, rubber, cashew nuts and pepper. ASEAN is also looking into standardisation of organic products and organic farming throughout the region.
  • ASEAN and India face similar challenges in agriculture such as a shrinking land base, dwindling water resources, shortage of farm labour, and increasing costs and uncertainties associated with volatility in international markets. We believe that diversification towards higher value crops and livestock remains the best way not only to improve farm incomes and accelerate growth, but also to reduce stress on natural resources which form the farmers’ production base. The challenges are common to the region and their impact often cuts across national borders. This calls for close coperation between our countries to tackle such issues effectively.
  • There are a number of common interests and potential opportunities for cooperation in agriculture and forestry between India and the ASEAN member countries. We have, so far, identified four components for cooperation, the first of which is enhancing cooperation in key areas of mutual interest to improve productivity and meet the challenges of food security. We are working to promote networking between the relevant government authorities and between our agriculture experts and academic institutions. Through several joint projects, we are involved in capacity building, technology transfer and joint R&D. And last but not least, we have a human angle to cooperation in this sector: We provide opportunities for farmers from ASEAN countries and India to learn and develop more efficient farming practices and management skills through information sharing via exchange programmes that we fund under the ASEAN-India Cooperation Fund.
  • We have made sustained forward movement on all these components. Several programmes are under implementation, while many new projects are in the pipeline. We are working together on organizing Masters degree programmes for students from India and ASEAN, exchange of scientists from agricultural research institutions, fellowships for higher agricultural education, development of a knowledge model for organizing agriculture content and demonstration and exchange of farm implements and machinery with a host of ASEAN institutions in partnership with top agricultural institutions of India such as ICAR, National Research Centre for Agroforestry, Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering and so on. Under the Farmers Exchange Programme, 27 ASEAN farmers visited India in December 2012 and 19 Indian farmers visited Malaysia in April 2013.
  • We also organized a conference of Heads of Agricultural Universities and Research Institutions of ASEAN countries and India in February 2013 where participants discussed a host of long term and short term projects including networking among the relevant institutions. Our stakeholders are never short of ideas, which augurs well for our dynamic relationship! This has also ensured that our cooperation in the agriculture sector keeps pace up with the overall strengthening of the India-ASEAN relationship.
  • We hope to see the ongoing collaborative agenda between India and ASEAN countries strengthen further, especially in the field of capacity building, research programmes and efficient management of resources for increased production and productivity in agriculture. During the last ASEAN-India Summit in November 2014 at Nay Pyi Taw, the President of Myanmar floated the idea of having a regional food reserve mechanism. I hope that this idea will be deliberated upon in today's Conference, along with other promising areas for future cooperation.
  • There are several opportunities available in the agriculture and food sector in ASEAN. Despite being leading producers of staple crops and food, most ASEAN countries are yet to reach their production boundaries. Investors are looking to leverage the region’s balanced climate and fertile lands and there are opportunities not just in crop and livestock production but also in managing the food supply chain, agriculture infrastructure and marketing. ASEAN can also act as the supply base for its larger neighbours as its proximity to China and Japan puts it in a good position for exporting food products. Besides, ASEAN countries also cater to niche markets. Malaysia, for example, is a major player in the Halal food sector and is well positioned to be the centre for production, promotion and distribution of Halal food.
  • We are working with ASEAN to enhance physical connectivity via the North-East and our eastern seaboard, which could have tremendous ramifications for cooperation in the field of agriculture as well. The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway which is under implementation would dramatically reduce travel time across borders and would open up numerous cross border opportunities for trade and investment. Industrial clusters located along the connectivity corridor could emerge as economic nodes with infinite possibilities. Thus, the food park on the outskirts of Imphal and the proposed SEZ at Thoubal in Manipur could, for instance, become a processing centre for fruits, pulses and other agricultural products imported from Myanmar.
  • I would also like to bring to your attention that at the 12th ASEAN-India Summit, the Hon'ble Prime Minister has announced creation of a Special Facility for project financing and quick implementation of connectivity projects with ASEAN. The SPV seeks to provide a framework whereby Indian industry could receive government support for investments in the connectivity projects with the ASEAN region, including the building of back-end linkages in India's North-East and along the eastern coast to create a symbiotic market model of economic development in the region. The Special Facility would have provision of USD 1 billion over a 10 year period, and seek to catalyse investment to the tune of USD 10 billion from the Indian private sector over the same period. This initiative is expected to provide a ballast to trade and investment as well as integrating our producers and manufacturers in regional value chains, and would provide the necessary infrastructure for translating our vision into action.
  • We would like ASEAN Embassies based in New Delhi and our Missions in ASEAN countries to be fully involved in the process of enhancing cooperation in the agri-food sector to mutual benefit and help bring ideas and relevant persons and institutions to the table. We have also opened in January 2015 a new Resident Mission to ASEAN in Jakarta with a full-time Ambassador, which we must leverage as well to expand and effectively implement our collaborative agenda.
  • I would like to conclude by saying that we are delighted to have AIAI as an 'associate' for the seventh edition of the Delhi Dialogue scheduled on 11-12 March in New Delhi. The Delhi Dialogue has emerged as the premier Track 1.5 forum for discussing all aspects of the ASEAN-India strategic partnership. Today's event was held in run up to the Delhi Dialogue VII, and we hope that some of the participants in this Conference will be able to attend our flagship event in Delhi as well.
  • Today's event is also extremely timely because our Agriculture Ministers are scheduled to be meeting soon. I am sure that the discussions on food safety and security, agricultural technology, food processing industries, value chains, agricultural marketing and infrastructure, which will take place during the day, will generate new ideas and hopefully result in some tangible and implementable policy recommendations for our governments on as well as private sectors.
Thank you.



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