PM to meet Wen Jiabao at regional summit

On Board Air India One, Nov 18 (IANS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will have bilateral meetings with six leaders, including outgoing Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, on the sidelines of the Asean−India and East Asia summits in Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.

Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, in a briefing to accompanying newspersons on board the special aircraft carrying the prime minister to Phnom Penh Sunday, said: "India views its engagement with Asean (a 10−nation bloc) and with East Asia (Asean plus eight countries) as very important, as integral to our approach of engaging this region for our Look East policy, which has progressed over the years."

He said India's engagement with the countries of the Asia and Pacific region was very stable.

He said the Asean economic ministers had firmed up the draft of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an agreement between the East Asia countries, in August this year and the summit would take a view on it.

"The summit (East Asia) will consider the recommendations and take an appropriate view," he added. A statement will be issued at the summit to convey "with clarity" the status on the RCEP.

The partnership is of major importance, considering the "shift in the global architecture" and the economic output of the countries of the region, which account for more than three billion of the population of the world and approximately 40 percent of the GDP, the minister said.

India has signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Asean on goods, while it is in the "final stages" of concluding an FTA on investments and services, he added.

To a question on the investment and services agreement, he said the negotiators met Saturday and again Sunday in Phnom Penh and "we hope to bring it to an early conclusion" and added that India hopes to conclude it by December when it is hosting the Asean−India Commemorative Summit.

The two−way trade between India and Asean is $75 billion, with $40 billion from Asean and $35 billion from India, Sharma said.

The two−way investment are "fairly robust", with India investing in excess of $61 billion and Asean countries investing $60 billion. "The major investments are from two countries, Japan and South Korea," he said.

The two−way trade with East Asian countries, of which US, China and Russia are dialogue partners, comprised $194 billion, he said.

India is engaging in a major way with Asean countries this year as it marks the 20th anniversary of of its relationship with the grouping as a full dialogue partner and 10th anniversary of ASEAN−India Summit−level partnership.

With China India has a major strategic and cooperative partnership and the meetings between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Premier Wen Jiabao would cover all issues. India has "flagged the issue of a fair trade balance and market access for India in IT and pharmaceuticals sectors".

India is seeking more cooperation with China, the country's largest trading partner, on investments, which are increasing on both sides and collaborations in key sectors in infrastructure and in manufacturing, "which is perhaps India's most important policy roll out".

India will host in New Delhi Dec 20−21 the Asean−India Commemorative Summit to mark the 20th anniversary of the relationship and the 10th anniversary of Asean−India Summit−level partnership.

(Ranjana Narayan can be contacted at ranjana.n@ians.in)

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