New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh embarks on a two-nation visit to Brunei and Indonesia on Wednesday to strengthen the strategic partnership with Southeast Asia and signalling that India is not just looking east, but also acting east.
Singh will attend the India-ASEAN Summit in Brunei Darussalam Oct 9 as India gears up to ink a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in services with the grouping within next three months.
Singh will also attend East Asia Summit on October 10 before leaving for his first bilateral visit to Indonesia to have talks with President Susilo Bambang Yudodhono.
India and the 10-member bloc - comprising Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam - elevated their relationship to the level of a strategic partnership last December during the commemorative summit that marked two decades of dialogue relations.
The anchor points of India-ASEAN relations are economic growth and prosperity, capacity building and strategic issues. India is keen to have the FTA in services and investment signed so that it can enter the large ASEAN market.
India and the 10-nation ASEAN had finalised the FTA in services and investments during the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit last December. A similar pact on goods was implemented in 2011.
ASEAN is India`s fourth-largest trading partner after the EU, the US and China. Total trade between India and ASEAN increased by 37 percent in 2011-12 to reach nearly USD 80 billion, surpassing the target of USD 70 billion. With the pact on services and investment, two-way trade is expected to touch the USD 100 billion mark by 2015.
India is also part of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) dialogue with ASEAN that aims to create a giant free trade area encompassing the major Asian economies by 2015.
Together, India and ASEAN constitute a community of 1.8 billion people, representing one-fourth of humanity, with a combined GDP of USD 3.8 trillion.
To take cooperation to higher levels, India set up the ASEAN-India Centre in June in New Delhi. Both sides are in talks to set up the ASEAN-India Trade and Investment Centre.
India is also supportive of the objective of an ASEAN Community by 2015 and the initiative for ASEAN integration.
Both sides are also working on boosting connectivity projects, including the Trilateral Highway, linking Thailand and Myanmar with India, to boost trade and people-to-people connect.
India has emerged as a significant player in the East Asia Summit, the premier forum for dealing with political and security issues in the region. The prime minister is expected to intervene in the talks over to evolve a stable security architecture in Asia.
The second objective of the EAS is to create an East Asian Community. There are also five core areas of cooperation -- education, energy, finance, disaster management, pandemics-- as well as connectivity and increased economic partnership between member states.
After attending summits in Brunei, where he will meet his new Australian counterpart Tony Abbott, Singh will visit Indonesia from October 10-12 during which the two countries are expected to take more steps to deepen their strategic partnership.