New Delhi, July 11 - Seeking to accelerate economic ties with the region, India Wednesday made a strong pitch for an early conclusion of a free trade agreement in services and investment with the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
'We believe that the early conclusion of the ASEAN-India Services and Investment Agreements would give a strong fillip to our economic engagement,' External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, at a meeting with foreign ministers of the ASEAN countries.
'The story of economic growth in our partnership is meeting expectations despite the global economic downturn. Two-way trade between ASEAN and India in 2011-12 reached $ 80 billion,' he said.
Imparting a fresh momentum to India's Look East policy, Krishna underlined the growing congruence in India's ties with economically vibrant ASEAN region and stressed on the need for strengthening private sector participation and encouraging cross-country private-public partnerships in improving connectivity between ASEAN nations and India.
India and the ASEAN signed a trade in goods (TIG) agreement in August 2010 after six years of negotiations. The pact came into force on January 1 last year. The two sides are engaged in intense negotiations to widen this pact to include services and investments.
Describing ASEAN as a 'key cornerstone of India's foreign policy and the foundation of its Look East Policy, Krishna said: 'We have attempted to anchor this within the larger context of Asia as an engine for global growth and prosperity.'
He identified geographic, institutional and people-to-people connectivity, e-linkages, capacity building, cooperation in frontier areas like space technology, agriculture, energy, environment and biodiversity as focus areas for deepening India-ASEAN ties.
New Delhi will host the special ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in New Delhi Dec 20-21. 'The Commemorative Summit will present a special opportunity to pronounce together a new era in the ASEAN-India partnership,' he said.