India has proposed the introduction of long-term visas for smooth movement of professionals and business, liberalization of investment policies and creation of economic hubs to ensure greater connectivity and mutual prosperity between Asia's third-largest economy and the 10-member economically vibrant Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).India also wants more collaboration in political-security issues with its strategic partner, saying deeper engagement on maritime security would help deal with challenges of terrorism and piracy, and maintain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. Inaugurating the Delhi Dialogue VI, the sixth edition of the annual inter-governmental conference to strengthen ASEAN-India strategic partnership, India's External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said Thursday evening that if trade and economic linkages have to be promoted, then the first aspect to address is ease of movement for businessmen and professionals.
"Our people-to-people linkages are the bedrock of our potential for partnership. We have visas on arrival arrangements with seven of the ten ASEAN countries. I ask you, is it not time to look at long-term visas in the near term as a means to ensure that our human resource capacities are not shackled by procedural requirements? Do we not need to make it easier for our businessmen, professionals and experts to travel more easily between our countries?
"This will help India build capacities in ASEAN and also incentivize investments from the private sectors," he said as the two sides are expected to ink a free trade agreement in services and investment sometime this year. India feels the operationalisation of the agreement would provide greater impetus to the trade and investment flows.
Khurshid also said there is a need to encourage multimodal use of the geographic linkages. "Do we not need to progress from a natural partnership to a partnership of bringing together capacities for rapid economic growth and prosperity? And should not the private sectors seek a more decisive role in this process?"As part of its maritime agenda, India is allowing 100 percent FDI under the automatic route for construction and maintenance of ports. We are giving tax holidays, encouraging private sector participation in ports and incentivizing ship building. The maritime transport sector in India is seeing a rewrite of its story. We would welcome similar enabling policies and measures for Indian Industry willing to invest in ASEAN ambitions," he said.
Another very important dimension to the ASEAN-India strategic partnership is its increasing relevance to the political-security space in East Asia. The minister assured ASEAN partners that India could be net security provider in the Southeast Asian region. "For both ASEAN and India, the bulk of our external trade by volume and by value is ocean borne. Our energy security is linked to maritime sea lines of communication. Transnational crimes, including counter-piracy and counter-terrorism, are matters of the highest priority, where there can be more effective engagement between ASEAN and India. We, therefore, support the ASEAN view which calls for greater ASEAN-India collaboration in political-security issues."India's naval footprint is essentially that of a net security provider even as it is set to expand. There is also potential for greater engagement between ASEAN and India in the ARF, ADMM+ and ASEAN Maritime Forum," he added.
The theme of Delhi Dialogue VI is "Realizing the ASEAN-India Vision for Partnership and Prosperity" which will allow the partners a comprehensive discussion on the future course of action. Khurshid said the dialogue will find an "identity of purpose", clear action points and the financing aspects of building India-ASEAN connectivity.An overwhelming majority of ASEAN ministers present on the occasion appreciated India's contribution in forging the partnership and called for maximizing its potential.Laura Del Rosario, Deputy Minister for International Economic Relations of the Philippines, said it is time "India should go East and not just Look East", referring to India's Look East policy.
Vietnam Deputy Foreign Minister Pham Quang Vinh called for a "collective response" to the geopolitical situation in East Asia, a reference to China's muscle-flexing in the South China and East China Sea and the surrounding region.Earlier Siddharth Birla, president of FICCI, co-organiser of the meet with the external affairs ministry and Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), said India and ASEAN must set new targets for bilateral trade and greater private sector engagement for two-way investment. India and ASEAN have set a trade target of $100 billion by 2015 and $200 billion by 2022. Both expect trade to surge thanks to the successful completion of negotiations on the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) on services and investment. The signing of an India-ASEAN FTA on goods in 2010 has seen trade reach $80 billion in 2011-12.Birla also called for building digital connectivity for increasing trade and investment.