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Address by Secretary (East) at the Inaugural Session of Look East Economic Summit 2012

January 20, 2012

I am delighted at the privilege to be amongst all of you today at the Look East Economic Summit 2012. This initiative of the Indian Chamber of Commerce which has grown over the years and now brings together an extremely distinguished gathering to focus on a very important aspect of India's foreign policy. The "Look East Policy” of India is multi-dimensional. Its basis is the civilisational linkages between India and East Asia; similarity of views and concerns of our countries; complementarity of capacities and of our individual economies and business environments. And its long-term objective is to strengthen synergies at the people-to-people and business-to-business levels. All this requires deliberative endeavour, clarity of objective, optimisation of resources and a constant and dynamic interface between the opinion makers, end-users and decision-makers in our countries. It requires an on-going dialogue of ideas, mindful of both the objectives and the very real requirements in our countries. The Ministry of External Affairs is, therefore, happy to be associated with the Seminar today.

  • An important backdrop to our discussions here in Kolkata is the growing belief that this century would be an Asian century. Our collective effort thus far, therefore, to forge closer engagement and deeper economic integration need to be assessed in this context. Another aspect of considerable importance today is the growth in capacities and capabilities that we see across the region for undertaking such a mutually beneficial partnership. India in the early 1990s had initiated a "Look East Policy” not merely as a dimension of its external economic policy but as recognition of the strategic shift of global focus to Asia and India's capacity to partner the processes in this part of the world. While the "Look East Policy” covers a wider area, today the focus of my address will be ASEAN and South East Asia.
  • Over the years, there has been a certain dynamism in bringing together the synergies between India and South East Asia in particular, in a mutually beneficial manner. This is reflected in our reiteration at the highest levels, including by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in his remarks at the 9th ASEAN India Summit held in Bali, Indonesia on November 19, 2011 that , India's partnership with ASEAN is one of the corner stones of our foreign policy and the foundation of India's "Look East Policy”.
  • Since its specific formulation in 1991, and I say specific because elements of India's Look East Policy could be found in our foreign policy even before but merely acquired a more deliberate character and formulation in keeping with the growing capacities of India and South East Asia at the time, India has been pursuing active constructive engagement with ASEAN, and South East Asia through its dialogue partnership with ASEAN and through fora such as ARF, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical Cooperation (BIMSTEC), the Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) and now the East Asia Summit. Bilateral relationships with countries in these groupings have also strengthened over the years through regular and steady exchange of high level visits. The functional aspects of ASEAN-India relations are driven by the ASEAN-India Plan of Action, the latest version covers years 2010-2015. In order to service its financial requirements, India has announced a contribution of US $ 50 million to the ASEAN-India Cooperation Fund, an initial corpus of US $ 1 million to ASEAN-India Science and Technology Fund and US $ 5 million for the ASEAN-India Green Fund. In the last few months, India has suggested a number of projects/proposals for ASEAN-India collaboration to the ASEAN Secretariat which will utilize a substantial part of this amount. We are awaiting concurrence from ASEAN countries to these suggested activities.
  • 2012 is being celebrated as the Commemorative Year for ASEAN-India relations and the Leaders would be meeting for a Commemorative Summit in New Delhi in December 2012. This is to mark 20 years of Dialogue Partnership and 10 years of Summit Partnership. Events that ASEAN and India are planning together include Delhi Dialogue IV on February 13-14, 2012 on the theme "India and ASEAN: Partners for Peace, Progress and Stability”. EAM would be inaugurating Delhi Dialogue IV which would have two sessions oriented to business and two towards security and political issues. An Eminent Persons Group to fashion a vision statement for India-ASEAN relations has also been formed. Heads of Space Agencies of ASEAN and India would meet at mutually convenient dates in the first half of this year. Given the increase in trade between ASEAN and India following the FTA on Trade in Goods, with total trade reaching US $ 57.87 billion in 2011, realistically close to the target of US $ 70 billion by 2012, efforts are now underway for the early conclusion of a commercially meaningful FTA in Services and Investment preferably by March 2012. The inaugural ASEAN-India Business Fair was held in New Delhi in March 2011 and the Commemorative Year will see the 2nd ASEAN-India Business Fair in December 2012, when the ASEAN-India Business Council and the ASEAN-India Business Summit meetings will also be held. ICC Kolkata and FICCI would partner with the Government of India in its initiative to take a Sail Training Ship "Sudershini” on an expedition to ASEAN countries and organise "marker” events in the different ports of call. CII is assisting the Governments of India and ASEAN countries in organising an ASEAN-India Car Rally 2012 which will start in Indonesia and reach India in time for the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in December 2012 in New Delhi. DIPP would also be organising Investment Round Tables in some ASEAN cities during the Car Rally.
  • The first meeting of ASEAN and Indian Agriculture Ministers took place in October 2011 in Jakarta. The second meeting is planned to be held in New Delhi in October 2012. An Agri Expo is to be organised back-to-back with this Ministerial Meeting. The 1st ASEAN-India Ministerial Meeting on Environment is also planned to be held the same month. ASEAN-India Ministers of New and Renewable Energy are to meet in November 2012. We are also working towards organising the 1st Meeting of the ASEAN-India Ministers of Small and Medium Enterprises, given the significant potential to be explored between ASEAN and India in this field. All of these meetings would provide direction and an unprecedented fillip to building the business environment between ASEAN countries and India.
  • Special emphasis is being given this year to people-to-people linkages. As part of the Commemorative Year, ICCR is drawing up an intensive calendar of cultural activities. India would be continuing the over 600 scholarships extended to ASEAN nationals on a bilateral and multilateral basis under our ITEC programme. The Entrepreneurship Development Centres (EDCs) and Centres for English Language Training (CELTs) set up by India in CLMV countries have been appreciated. There is a request to set up additional centres. Prime Minister announced at the Bali Summit in November 2011 that given the enthusiastic participation by ASEAN students in the annual exchange programme, India would increase the number of students hosted from ASEAN countries from 100 to 250 per year. We are also looking to institutionalise the ASEAN-India Media Exchange Programme with India hosting two groups of 20 ASEAN journalists every year for the next 3 years and ASEAN countries hosting India journalists in return. The Foreign Service Institute of India conducts a special training course for 50 ASEAN diplomats annually. The last such month-long course was held in November-December 2011. India has also been participating as observer in the ASEAN Inter Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) General Assembly and at the last meeting in September 2011 in Phnom Penh, Indian Parliamentarians extended an invitation for an AIPA Delegation to visit India in 2012. Most recently, at the ASEAN-India Tourism Ministers Meeting in Manado on January 12, 2012, we have signed an MoU to strengthen tourism cooperation between our countries. We are also seeking active participation of ASEAN countries in the Nalanda University Project. Connectivity issues and the various projects proposed therein, such as the extension of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Highway to Laos and Cambodia and the Mekong India Economic Corridor are to be approached in an integrated manner.
  • I have enumerated our ongoing efforts at some length to share with you a sense of India's commitment to its Look East Policy and to the intensification of relations with ASEAN countries. We see ASEAN member countries as integral to our approach to meet our common concerns and objectives related to development, peace and stability in the wider region. Our approach is participative at the people-to-people and business levels, which is more sustainable for rapid progress over the long term. I look forward to listening to the very distinguished Speakers at this Seminar and to using their experience in the region and their expertise as valuable inputs to the process that we are following in the Ministry of External Affairs to strengthen ties between India and ASEAN under our Look East Policy.
Thank you.

January 20, 2012


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