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Look East to Act East: Dr S Jaishankar, Minister of External Affairs
Oct 07, 2021

India’s Look East Policy has matured into an Act East Policy and its success is reflected in drawing India more comprehensively into the Indo-Pacific region. ASEAN is one of the major hubs for India’s global economic engagement, commented Dr S Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister, Government of India while addressing the Indo – ASEAN Business Summit & Expo, organized by Confederation of Indian Industry in partnership with the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India on the theme ‘Act East Policy in the Post Covid World’, from 7 – 8 October, 2021.

It is necessary to reimagine the partnerships between India and ASEAN in the light of the COVID pandemic, added the Minister. He outlined four areas of core agenda, in the engagement, including (i) resilient and reliable supply chains, (ii) health security, (iii) digital for development and (iv) green & sustainable recovery. He further outlined areas including manufacture of vaccines and pharmaceuticals, digital connectivity, innovations in science and technology as India’s strengths around which partnerships with ASEAN could be further enhanced. India has a strong record for climate action, including renewables and green hydrogen and a close cooperation on sustainable development, which could also be lucrative areas for partnership, added the Minister.

“It is important that we – India, the ASEAN and our relationship – we recognize that a different world awaits us. It is one that puts greater premium on trust and transparency, resilience and reliability, as also on choices and redundancy,” he stated.

ASEAN and India have agreed to review the ASEAN India Trade in Goods Agreement to make it simple, user friendly and facilitative for business and we are hopeful that this this will increase the flow of goods between ASEAN and India address and reduce tariff barriers, support a resilient and connected supply chains and impact the post pandemic economic recovery, mentioned H E Dato Lim Jock Hoi, Secretary General- ASEAN.

We look forward to India’s increased engagements with ASEAN under its Act East Policy and expand new areas of collaboration. ASEAN and India remain committed to enhance ASEAN centrality and promote open and inclusive regional architecture. Since 2010, with the establishment of ASEAN – India Free Trade Area in 2010, trade has almost doubled to USD 77 bn in 2019. Even during COVID, Singapore and India have worked together to maintain supply chains and facilitate the flow of essential goods, said H E Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Singapore.

Indian Industry believes that it can play a significant role in strengthening the economic and trade partnerships between India and ASEAN. In addition to healthcare, India and ASEAN have a role to play in the diversification of the global supply chain, mentioned Mr T V Narendran, President, CII and CEO & Managing Director, Tata Steel Limited.

Aligning with the Government of India’s Act East Policy, CII has focused upon enhancing business cooperation between India – ASEAN through its two offices in Indonesia and Singapore, commented Mr Chandrajit Banerjee, Director General, Confederation of Indian Industry.

Earlier, the India-ASEAN Business Summit and Expo held a session on sunrise sectors of cooperation addressed by Ms Riva Ganguly Das, Secretary East, Ministry of External Affairs, India, along with Ambassadors of ASEAN countries based in India.

India -ASEAN trade has reached US 96.79 billion in 2018-2019. The challenges during the Covid -19 have only strengthened the relationship between the regions, said Ms Riva Ganguly Das, Secretary East, MEA. She added that India is working towards sub-regional connect in the ASEAN region and has launched several community projects as well along with connectivity projects such as the Kaladan multimodal corridor.

To promote the linkages between the region, the ASEAN region should create a conducive environment for investment opportunities with incentives for private enterprises, mentioned H E Mr Ung Sean, Ambassador of Royal Embassy of Cambodia. He added that the ASEAN-India Free Trade Agreement is now under review and a mechanism is underway to tap more potential and opportunities for economic growth in the region.

With the announcement of Act East Policy a new momentum has been acquired, said H E Mr Bounneme Chouanghom, Ambassador Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic. India is Lao PDR’s 7th largest trading partner and one of the largest sources of FDI. Both the countries should continue to provide opportunities for further trade, he added.

The economic relationship between India & Myanmar has mostly been governed by the private sector, said H E Mr Moe Kyaw Aung, Ambassador, Embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. India Processing and Trade Association recently signed an MoU with the India-Myanmar Chamber of Commerce to work towards establishing a framework, especially in the processing sector, he added.

Philippines acknowledges India being a major player in the pharmaceutical industry and also in the vaccine distribution strategy, said H E Mr Ramon S Bagatsing Jr, Ambassador, Embassy of the Philippines.

Thailand is ready to enhance partnership in building back better and be more resilient with other partners, including India, said H E Ms Pattarat Hongtong, Ambassador, Royal Thai Embassy.

India has built a vibrant business community including in states of the country and Vietnam has engaged at the state level, said H E Dr Do Thanh Hai, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Vietnam.

Indian Ambassadors based in ASEAN countries took up the issue of business cooperation at another session. Under the ASEAN-India fund, India is working towards developing a project for various IT courses. We are also exchanging notes on the soil health card portal which will prove to be a big project in big data, said H E Mr Jayant Khobragade, Ambassador of India to ASEAN.

In the Fintech sector, there is a huge opportunity to engage with Brunei. There is ample scope for digitisation in the region, commented H E Mr Ajaneesh Kumar, High Commissioner of India to Brunei Darussalam.

H E Dr Devyani Uttam Khobragade, Ambassador of India to Cambodia, said that India and Cambodia have witnessed renewed warmth between the countries since the post colonial period, adding that healthcare will be an areas of cooperation for the two countries.

Relations with Vietnam have been an important engagement for India in the Indo-Pacific as part of the Act East Policy and the Indo-Pacific vision, stated H E Mr Pranay Verma, Ambassador of India to Vietnam.

India and Myanmar are in course of finalising the text for the Coastal Shipping Agreement that will facilitate direct shipping and eliminate the delay in transit, commented Ms Nabanita Chakrabarty, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of India to Myanmar.

7 October 2021

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