New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday said India-ASEAN relations were at an "exciting stage" and expressed confidence that the free trade agreement in services and investment would be transformational.
Flagging down 22-day, eight-nation India-ASEAN Car Rally, Singh said India and ASEAN nations should build a web of linkages to unleash the vast economic potential of the region.
"...Our future will be driven by the bonds of connectivity we build in the coming years," Singh said welcoming the participants of the car rally in the presence of heads of state and governments of the ASEAN member nations.
"These physical bonds will be strengthened by digital links, which will help our younger generations to network better. Together, this web of linkages will help unleash the vast economic potential of our region, accelerate development and deepen our strategic partnership," he said.
Observing that India-ASEAN ties were at an "exciting stage", Singh said the two sides had framed a new paradigm by elevating the relationship to a strategic partnership and by concluding negotiations on free trade agreement in services and investment.
"I am confident that this agreement could be as transformational as our agreement on Goods has been," he said.
The Prime Minister said the car rally, which traversed nearly 8,000 kms in 22 days, has reinforced the importance of strengthening connectivity in all its dimensions between India and ASEAN.
"In the last three weeks, the car rally has rekindled these ancient bonds of friendship between India and ASEAN. It has also served to highlight the natural strategic imperative for our relationship in contemporary times," Singh said.
Students, farmers, diplomats, and a hoard of media persons from ASEAN countries, who had gathered in huge numbers at the Vigyan Bhawan here, accorded a boisterous welcome to the rallyists.
"Their presence has added special warmth to this cold December morning in Delhi," the Prime Minister remarked.
The car rally, comprising 31 sports utility vehicles, was flagged off from Yogyakarta, Indonesia on November 25 and reached here after traversing nearly 8,000 km across eight countries.
The rally participants got to see the magnificent achievements reflected in Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Borobudur in Indonesia, Wat Phu in Lao, Sukhothai in Thailand and many other sites.
"It is a tribute to earlier generations of merchants, monks and adventurers, who traversed this route in a quest for fortune, knowledge and spirituality," Singh said.
The rally entered India through Moreh, on the border between India and Myanmar, and passed through Nagaland and Assam where it was received on December 17 by the trade ministers of ASEAN.
The car rally marks the 20th commemorative year of the ASEAN-India relations and 10th year of their summit level engagement.
Along with the car rally, business marker events were organised in countries en route to connect with the industry and the common man.
The events focused on sectors like manufacturing, mining, IT &ITeS, education, healthcare, agri and food processing, border trade, investment and financing, infrastructure and development, air and sea connectivity and people-to-people contacts.