VIETNAM, ASEAN – INDIA DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION :
REALITY AND PROSPECT
Ms. PREETI SARAN
Ambassador of India to Vietnam
I am delighted to be present here, once again, at the prestigious Ho Chi Minh Academy’s India Studies Centre, to participate in the Conference entitled Vietnam ASEAN-India Development Cooperation: Reality and Prospect. The timing of the Conference is perfect, as we celebrate one year of the establishment of the India Studies Centre. I would like to congratulate President Ta Ngoc Tan for his dynamic leadership and Assc. Prof Dr. Le Van Toan for transforming this Centre into such an important think-tank, in just one year. The Conference also takes place, as Vietnam takes over as the India-ASEAN coordinator for 2016 to 2018. For India, Vietnam remains our most valuable strategic partner in our dealings with ASEAN.
The ASEAN-India relationship is not only about shared civilisational heritage or the historically inter-connected geographic space or the synergy amongst ASEAN and India in economic and human resource development, but increasingly about the strategic fundamentals of economic growth and prosperity, peace and stability. The up-gradation of the relationship into a Strategic Partnership in 2012 was a natural progression to the ground covered since India became a Sectoral Partner of the ASEAN in 1992, Dialogue Partner in 1996 and Summit Level Partner in 2002. Our government moved with a great sense of priority and speed to turn India’s hitherto ‘Look East Policy’ into an action-driven and result-oriented ‘Act East Policy.’ We have also opened an Independent Mission to ASEAN and EAS in Jakarta to further strengthen our engagement. India places ASEAN at the core of the Act East Policy and at the centre of our dream of an Asian century.
As politico-economic and security structures evolve, Asia is assuming new responsibilities, commensurate with its newly acquired capabilities. In this scenario, ASEAN and India are, in a sense, natural partners, defining their individual national perspectives whilst simultaneously addressing their common requirements of economic growth and a peaceful and stable regional environment. India is an active participant, in the East Asia Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum, ADMM+ and the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum, which are important ASEAN centric initiatives for creating an open and inclusive regional architecture. Vietnam has always supported India’s participation in all these forums because of our common perceptions, mutual interest and a mutually beneficial relationship.
As the countries in the East Asian region strive for greater economic integration, the safety of sea lanes - critical for maritime trade and commerce, maritime security, and access to marine resources in accordance with accepted international norms, continue to assume greater significance. Moreover, non-state threats such as piracy, smuggling, international terrorism, transnational crimes, drug-trafficking, cyber crimes, maritime security and proliferation of sensitive items are on the rise and pose a challenge for countries in the region. As two important stakeholders in promoting peace and security in the region, India and Vietnam, continue to play a very important role, as we intensify our cooperation in all fields. We believe that to seek a climate of trust and transparency, respect for international maritime rules and norms by all countries, sensitivity to one another’s interests, peaceful resolution of maritime issues, and an increase in maritime cooperation, should all be the collective objective and responsibility of the region.
On the economic front, the most significant development has been the greater integration of the economic space between ASEAN countries and India with the signing of the Free Trade Agreement in Goods in 2009, followed by the signing of Free Trade Agreements in Investment and Services in 2014, which are expected to fully enter into force later this year. In 2014-15, ASEAN-India trade stood at US$ 76.58 billion, up from US$ 44 billion in 2009-10 when we signed the FTA in Goods. We hope to achieve our targets of $ 100 billion by 2015 and strive to achieve the revised targets of $ 200 billion by 2022. Nevertheless, the bilateral trade volume remains relatively low as compared with the other dialogue partners of ASEAN, due to inadequate awareness about mutual investment opportunities and under-utilisation of the FTA on both sides, which we are working to rectify. In my opinion, India-Vietnam dynamic bilateral trade relations can play a very important role as ASEAN moves towards a common economic community by the end of this year and India-Vietnam bilateral trade outperforms itself, ahead of trade targets. I am hopeful, especially as our two countries today are the most dynamic economies in the region, with India growing at nearly 7.5%.
To optimise the benefits of FTA, we will however have to work much harder with our respective business communities through convening more frequent business to business meetings and business outreach activities. We have recently had three very successful business interactions, both in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and are now working towards another textiles focused delegation that will visit Vietnam next month.
Meanwhile, our negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement have been advancing satisfactorily, and we are optimistic about a substantive conclusion of negotiations by the end of the year, as agreed upon by the Trade Ministers of the 16 parties to the Agreement last month. Once again, India-Vietnam’s bilateral focus of making economic cooperation our strategic priority can play an important role in a successful completion of negotiations.
In terms of two-way FDI flows, the India–ASEAN region has significantly outpaced many other regions of the world. Over the past seven years, USD 25 billion of FDI equity has come into India from ASEAN countries and USD 31 billion of Indian equity has found its way into ASEAN. We are, therefore, quite optimistic that mutual investment opportunities arising from the realisation of the ASEAN Economic Community and the Indian Government’s emphasis on ‘Make in India’, ‘Digital India’, ‘Skilling India’ and ‘Smart Cities’ initiatives, coupled with the entry into force of the ASEAN-India Trade-in-Services and the ASEAN-India Investment Agreements this year would open up further avenues to channelize more big-ticket investments both ways. This, in turn, will help in augmenting bilateral trade in goods as well.
Enhancing connectivity both with Vietnam and ASEAN in all its aspects – physical, institutional and people-to-people – is one of our strategic priorities. India is committed to support the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity. The signal effort under the ASEAN-India Connectivity initiative is the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and its potential extension to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. We are working to create a Special Facility for project financing and quick implementation of connectivity projects with ASEAN, whereby industry could receive government support for investments in connectivity projects with the ASEAN region. We are also working on a Project Development Company to nurture businesses in CLMV countries, with a view to expanding our trade and investment relations. With Vietnam, we have successfully concluded an Air Services Agreement and an MOU on Shipping. If we could start direct flights between India and Vietnam and direct containerization of our cargo, it would be a force multiplier in India Vietnam and India ASEAN trade.
While our political and economic relations with ASEAN are acquiring depth and momentum, people-to-people ties have also become vibrant. Apart from the highly successful ASEAN-India Students Exchange Programme, we organize programmes for exchange visits of media-persons, farmers, diplomats and experts.
Other initiatives include the Mekong Ganga Cooperation, which is aimed at reviving cooperation between the peoples of the Mekong and Ganga river basins in the fields of tourism, education, culture and promoting people-to-people contacts, as well as the re-establishment of the Nalanda University at Rajgir as a world-renowned knowledge hub. We are, moreover, looking at undertaking an ever-growing number of projects to support the Initiative for ASEAN Integration and Narrowing the Intra-ASEAN Development Gap including to set up a new Centre for English Language & IT Training at Nha Trang Telecommunications University. Some of our flagship, high value projects are ready for take-off. The most significant among these is the implementation of the USD 21.53 million project on Establishment of a Tracking and Data Reception Station and Data Processing Facility for ASEAN at Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, upgrading of the existing station at Biak, Indonesia and Training of ASEAN Personnel in Space Science & Technology in Dehradun, India. Scientists from ISRO, our space agency, have already visited Viet Nam and Indonesia to finalise work plans and other modalities such as site selection.
During the 13th ASEAN-India Summit in Kuala Lumpur later this year, India and ASEAN would also be adopting the 3rd Plan of Action for the next five years, i.e. from 2016 to 2020, to carry forward the roadmap for long-term ASEAN India engagement as set out in the ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity signed at the 4th ASEAN-India Summit in 2004. The Vision Document that our Leaders adopted at the 2012 ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit in New Delhi, while upgrading our relationship to the strategic level, as well as the recommendations of the ASEAN-India Eminent Persons Group, also continue to provide guidance and inspiration to our relationship. As we look ahead, the future appears promising.
I look forward to listening to the views of the distinguished speakers present here today on the 'way forward' for our relations, especially in the run up to the 25th anniversary of the ASEAN-India partnership in 2017 and beyond.
To conclude, I would like to once again, express my sincere thanks and gratitude to Prof. Ta Ngoc Tan and Assc. Prof Dr. Le Van Toan for kindly organizing this important Conference.
I would like to convey our Government’s deep appreciation and continued support for the sterling performance of the India Studies Centre, at the Ho Chi Minh Academy. I wish your deliberations all success and I look forward to the conclusions and recommendations that emerge from this Conference.