New Delhi: Vice President Hamid Ansari on Tuesday embarked on a visit to Cambodia and Laos during which he will hold talks with leadership there to strengthen ties and shore up the "below potential" bilateral trade and investment as part of India's push for an enduring partnership with ASEAN countries.
He left for the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh this morning with stepping up trade, investment, tourism and cultural linkages high on his agenda during the talks there. The visit to Laos will be the first ever by an Indian Vice President.
"Visits to Cambodia and Laos, two important growing economies, will definitely reaffirm our pursuit of an enduring partnership with countries of ASEAN region which is part of our Act East policy," Secretary East Anil Wadhwa told reporters here while briefing on Ansari's four-day visit yesterday.
The Vice President's visit to Cambodia at the invitation of Prime Minister Hun Sen will focus particularly on shoring up bilateral trade and investment which remains "much below potential".
"Cambodia is a growing economy that has maintained a growth rate of about seven per cent over the last several years. It is seeking greater socio-economic development. They are also a very young nation much like India and they are looking at opportunities for human resource development. We will assure them that they can count on India as a willing development partner," Wadhwa said.
"Our efforts in this direction have been towards undertaking infrastructure projects and capacity development programmes. Our trade and investment linkages have grown over the years, though they remain much below potential."
"We will also brief the interlocutors (during the visit) on the initiatives that India is taking to step up our economic engagement," he said.
Besides holding bilateral talks with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun, Ansari will also meet National Assembly President Heng Samrin and call on Acting Head of State and President of the Senate Say Chhum.
Ansari will also give a talk on Cambodia-India Relations at the Office of the Council of Ministers.
In Cambodia, the Vice President will also visit Angkor Wat temple and the Ta Prohm temple, which is located around one km east of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap province.
"We are also involved in the conservation and preservation of these great monuments and we hope that the Vice President's visit to these sites will encourage people-to-people contact as well as tourism," Wadhwa said.
Ansari will also visit the Mekong-Ganga Textile Museum in Siem Reap province.
He will also meet Indian community in Cambodia. During Ansari's visit, India will look to step up its participation in infrastructure projects and capacity building.
Wadhwa said India is working on a new agreement to provide grant assistance for projects targeted towards social development which he hoped will be signed during the visit.
Under the Ministry of External Affairs' "quick impact projects", umbrella agreements will be signed in both Cambodia and Laos. Four such projects will be inked in Cambodia while five in Laos. The projects in Laos range from agriculture sector to promotion of Indian goods. These will be completed within a span of three to six months.
After visiting the Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm temples, Ansari will leave for Laotian capital of Vientiane on Thursday.
In Laos, he will hold talks with his counterpart Bounnhang Vorachith. He will also call on President Choummaly Sayasone and meet Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong. Ansari will also meet Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulith and Vice President of the National Assembly Xaysomphone Phomvihane.
With Lao PDR, India shares deep cultural links as with Cambodia, Wadhwa said. Ansari will also visit the Vat Phou Shiva temple that predates Angkor Wat temple.
This will not only be the first visit to Laos by an Indian Vice President but also the first high-level visit after the trip by former President Pratibha Patil in 2010.
"India-Laos commercial ties need to be strengthened because the present bilateral trade again like Cambodia is not reflective of our potential. There seems to be a need for an interaction between industry chambers, participation in each other's exhibition etc and the Indian private sector will be encouraged by this visit to explore opportunities in Laos," Wadhwa said.
India has extended a total creditline of USD 165 million over the past decade for infrastructure project which includes transmission lines, equipment for rural electrification, hydro power projects and irrigation schemes.
The visit will focus on shoring up economic ties with the two growing economies, he said.
Total trade between India and Laos in 2013-2014 was USD 89.29 million.
Total bilateral trade for 2013-2014 between India and Cambodia was USD 153.98 million (Indian export of USD 141.26 million and import of USD 12.72 million).
Cambodia has been very supportive of India's position in multilateral fora, including in stepping up engagement with ASEAN and it has also extended its unconditional support for India's bid for a permanent UNSC seat.
"It (Cambodia) played a very constructive role in upgrading our relationship with ASEAN to summit level in 2002 and as we deepen our engagement with ASEAN countries, Cambodia and Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam (CLMV) countries will attract special attention," Wadhwa said.