Phnom Penh : India Tuesday welcomed the launch of negotiations on a mega East Asian trade deal and also emphasised on the need for increased connectivity between the 16 countries of the bloc that comprise more than three billion of the world's population and approximately 40 percent of the GDP.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his address at the plenary session of the seventh East Asia Summit in this Cambodian capital, said: "We welcome the launch of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations today."
He said India also supports the Phnom Penh Declaration on East Asia Summit Development Initiative.
He added that while the EAS is "still new, we have built an impressive agenda for economic cooperation and for addressing some of our common challenges".
Manmohan Singh said the countries - the 10-member Asean bloc and six other countries, including India - should also try and bring to bear the same spirit of cooperation "in addressing our differences".
The prime minister, who has been pushing India's Look East policy, said: "I have no doubt that together we can create an open, balanced, inclusive and rule-based architecture in the region for our collective stability and prosperity".
He said that "connectivity is vital for increased commerce, contact and cooperation between our countries", and pushed for quick implementation of the EAS Declaration on Asean connectivity, adopted at the last summit.
The prime minister said India has been happy to carry forward several EAS-related initiatives, including on malaria control and earthquake risk management.
He also said that the Nalanda University project with support from member countries has been gaining momentum and the first two schools are expected to begin teaching in the academic year 2014-15.
He praised the Asean members for their progress in creating an integrated Asean community and also their leadership in launching wider regional initiatives like the Asean Regional Forum, the EAS and the Asean Defence Ministers Meeting.
"For India, Asean has been the bridge to the East. It is also central to the evolution of a regional architecture and its different cooperative framework."
He stressed that India's security adn prosperity are "vitally linked to the Asia Pacific region".
"Our vision for this region is rooted in cooperation and integration. Forums such as the EAS can help create a large economic community in this region that will accelerate development and enhance prosperity, besides reinforcing mutual understanding and confidence in the region," he said.
Manmohan Singh emphasised the need for concerted effort and collective action on the part of the 16 countries to strengthen mutual understanding to address shared challenges. For this it would be necessary for the East Asian countries to develop a common set of principles, establish cooperative mechanisms and deepen regional economic integration.
First Published: Tuesday, November 20, 2012, 16:04