India’s Role in Promoting Asean Co-operation: Civil Services Mentor Magazine February 2013


ASEAN is a regional intergovernmental organization formed by
the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand
through the Bangkok Declaration which was signed by their foreign ministers on
8th August, 1967. Brunei joined in 1984, Vietnam in 1995. Laos and Myanmar in
1997 and Cambodia in 1999. Papua New Guinea also has observer status. Its main
objectives are to accelerate economic growth, Social progress and cultural
development to ensure the political and economic stability of the South East
Asian region.

In the beginning India did not have cordial relations with
ASEAN due to certain doubts and suspicions on both sides. While India was
suspicious of underlying American diplomacy, ASEAN was wary of India due to its
closeness to Russia. For example, in 1982 India supported Hague Samarin
government in Combodia which had the support of Vietnam, whereas ASEAN
recognized the Democratic Kampuchean coalition- the opponent of Hague Samarin.
Though India always wanted to join the ASEAN in view of its steady economic
progress, Indonesia. Philippines and Thailand were not in favour of India
joining ASEAN, because it feared India’s hegemony due to its sheer size and

India-ASEAN relations, as they exist today, are in some ways,
a, reconfiguration of age-old ties that date back 2,000 years. Only the modes of
trade have changed. Instead of the silk route, countries now use tech-oriented
routes to link up. ASEAN, the latest version of what was the Asian trade network
ages ago, is an effort to establish cooperation in the economic, social,
cultural, technical, educational and other fields among its member countries,
namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei,
Darussalam, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. For a relationship that began
warming up only about a decade ago, the India-ASEAN partnership has been
trotting at quite a fast pace. India became a sectoral dialogue partner of ASEAN
in 1992. The sectors were trade, investment, tourism and science and technology.

Mutual interest led ASEAN to invite India to become a full
dialogue partner of ASEAN during the fifth ASEAN summit in Bangkok in 1995 and a
member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (AREF) in 1996.
India signed an agreement in October 2003 for a free trade area (FTA) with
Thailand. Under the agreement, 84 items can be imported from Thailand from April
2004 at 50 percent of the normal rate of duty prevailing in India. The pact with
Thailand is to be followed by a similar agreement with Singapore and,
ultimately, the entire ASEAN region and India is committed to aligning its peak
tariff to East Asian levels by 2005. India has also been engaged in negotiations
to form ‘a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with Singapore.
Sub-regional cooperation has accelerated too. The Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC)
and the BIMST-EC (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Economic
Cooperation) are indicators to this effect. In 2003, India acceded to the Treaty
of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in South-East Asia, signed a declaration to
combat international terrorism and agreed on comprehensive economic cooperation
to step up their current trade turnover of S 12 billion. Among ASEAN members,
Singapore and Malaysia have been India’s most prominent trading partners and
India’s trade with Laos has been the least in valve terms.

Trade Cooperation

The deepening of ties is beginning to show in the
intra-country trade figures. India-ASEAN trade in 2010-11 was about $51.10
billion, over six times the 2003-04- trade figure of $9.78 billion. India- ASEAN
trade during the calendar year 2009 was – exports $ 17.3 billion and imports $
23.8 billion and during 2010 – exports $ 22.3 billion and imports $ 27.8
billion. India’s trade with ASEAN had increased by 30 per cent in 2010- 2011,
crossing the $50-billion mark, and with such a rate of growth, the target of $70
billion by 2012 would be feasible. India’s trade with ASEAN has increased by 30
per cent in 2010-2011 and has crossed the $50 billion mark. According to the
prime minister, “With such a rate of growth we should be able to achieve our
trade target of $billion by 2012. Pushing for greater physical connectivity
between India and ASEAN, ‘remains the strategic objective70.’ There are several
proposals under consideration with regard to land and sea connectivity, which
include the India- Myanmar-Thailand Highway, its extension to Laos and Cambodia
and the development of a new highway also linking Vietnam.

Growth in India’s exports to ASEAN in recent years has been
much higher in comparison to other destinations. As expected, trade relations
have led to a spurt in people-to-people links, giving a boost to tourism. It
will only grow further when India and the ASEAN countries establish the planned
road and rail links between them To take this step further, a motor car rally
has been organised by India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Government of
India and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CID in close cooperation with
the member-states of the ASEAN and the ASEAN Secretariat. At this point, India
is poised at a strategic moment from where it can pitch for better cooperation
with the ASEAN countries.


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