India-Asean FTA may be sealed today

Written by fe Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Dec 20 2012, 06:19am hrs
India and the ten-nation Asean (Association of South East Asian Nations) will for the first time hold a two-day commemorative summit on Thursday that is likely to end in a free trade agreement in services and a vision document on scaling up ties across diverse areas, including trade, energy, security and cultural connectivity.

The two sides are celebrating the 10th anniversary of their summit-level meeting and the 20th anniversary of sectoral dialogue partnership between the two.

India is looking to use its increasing influence on Asean members to counter China's aggressive moves in the region.

Nine heads of state/governments are to participate in the summit with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

"The summit is expected to culminate in a vision document which will be based on recommendations from an Eminent Persons Group. After Thursday, there will be a ceremonial flag-down of the Asean car rally by the leaders of the Asean countries," MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.

According to Sanjay Bhattacharyya, joint secretary (south), MEA, "The Look East Policy now has a new impetus and that is spurred by our growing relations with our close neighbours in southeast Asia."

Deciding to engage in intense bilateral diplomacy with individual Asean nations, Singh will also hold bilateral talks with the leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

The major attraction of the summit is expected to be the formal announcement of the conclusion of negotiations on a free trade agreement on services and investment, a defining step that will accelerate India's engagements with this economically vibrant region.

In an official statement from the Rashtrapati Bhawan, President Pranab Mukherjee will receive the Asean leadership on Thursday when they arrive in the Capital to participate in the special summit.