For the first time, India and the10-nation ASEAN will hold a two-day commemorative summit starting Thursday that is likely to culminate 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 the summit-level meeting between ASEAN and India and the 20th anniversary of sectoral dialogue partnership between the two.
Nine heads of state/governments of all Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) except the Philippines, which will be represented by its vice-president, 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 the Eminent Persons Group. After the plenary Thursday, there will be a ceremonial flag-down of the Asean car rally by the leaders of the Asean countries," Syed Akbaruddin, official spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) told mediapersons.
According to Sanjay Bhattacharyya, joint secretary (south) in India's external affairs ministry, "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 hold bilateral talks with the leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia on the sidelines of the two-day commemorative summit.
In November, he had met the leaders of Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Brunei and Myanmar in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.
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.
President Pranab Mukherjee will receive the ASEAN leadership at Rashtrapati Bhavan Thursday when they arrive in the capital to participate in the ASEAN-India Special Commemorative Summit, said an official statement from the Rashtrapati Bhawan.
ASEAN-India trade has been growing over 22 percent during the last six years. Since the signing of the ASEAN-India trade in goods agreement in 2009 and its implementation since last year, bilateral trade during 2011-12 has increased by more than 37 percent.
The trade is estimated to be around $79 billion and the two sides have set a target of $100 billion by 2015.