India in regional trading bloc is win-win for all: Singapore minister

New Delhi, July 31 (IANS) Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said India and the 10-member ASEAN will ink the free trade pact on services and investment in August that would help achieve the $100 billion trade target and also pave the way for India's participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trading bloc.

Delivering the inaugural lecture of the ASEAN-India Centre here Tuesday evening, Shanmugam said India's participation in the RECP will create a "win win situation for all".

"If India is part of it (RCEP), it is to India's benefit and it will entrench India's strategic participation," he said at the lecture at the India Habitat Centre. The ASEAN-India Centre, inaugurated last month, has been established at the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) headed by former foreign secretary Shyam Saran.

The RCEP is an initiative to link the ten ASEAN member states and the group's Free Trade Agreement partners, Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand. The grouping of 16 nations includes more than 3 billion people, has a combined GDP of about $17 trillion, and accounts for about 40 percent of world trade. The first round of negotiations on RCEP were held in May in Brunei.

India and ASEAN concluded negotiations on the FTA on services and investment last December. India already has a FTA on goods with the 10-member regional grouping.

He pressed for India to complete the land and sea connectivity routes to ASEAN. He said the "missing link" in the economics of their bilateral relationship were the linkages which would help "transform" their trade ties and enhance business opportunities greatly by land and sea.

"We look forward to greater cooperation on implementation of the master plan of ASEAN connectivity. If we can do it with good highways with proper security, it will transform the landscape," said the minister.

He said ASEAN welcomes India's willingness to liberalise air cargo services, and "strongly urged" India to begin negotiations on a full air transport agreement, and includes liberalisation of passenger services.

"We encourage India to step up engagement with ASEAN" in keeping with India's Look East policy enunciated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, said Shanmugam.

He also said it was "time to look at ASEAN-India relations and think deeply of where we are going".

Touching on India's deep historical linkages with the Southeast Asian region, he said it showed how deeply Indian culture has infused the Southeast Asian nations. But he asked if "history is necessarily destiny" and added that a "new history is being written everyday".

He said the circumstances in the world had changed and "we are forced to look at the history of today" in the Southeast Asian region. Emphasising the growing importance of the ASEAN region, he said it comprises of 600 million young people and has a lot of resources and energy and an economy of $2.2 trillion, the ninth largest in the world, and has linkages with China and the US.

The combined population of India and the Southeast Asian bloc is 1.8 billion, which is one-fourth of the global population, and the combined GDP of the region is over $3 trillion.

Earlier, RIS head Shyam Saran said the ASEAN-India Centre would help promote India's strategic partnership with the bloc, contribute to realisation of the ASEAN community by 2015 and serve as a resource base for India-ASEAN relations.

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