New Delhi: Seeking to deepen ties with ASEAN as part of India's 'Act East' policy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to pitch for improving connectivity in the region to give a boost to trade and people-to-people contact at their summit next week.
Modi leaves for Myanmar on Tuesday to attend the 12th ASEAN-India summit and the 9th East Asian summit on November 12 and 13 respectively on the first leg of his three-nation 10-day foreign tour that will also take him to Australia and Fiji.
Giving a broad overview on the two back-to-back summits, Anil Wadhwa, Secretary(East) in the External Affairs Ministry, said India is keen that the next ASEAN-India five-year plan of action starting 2016 should lay emphasis on enhancing people-to-people contacts, augmenting trade besides reinforcing the strategic and political relationship.
The plan will also focus on security architecture in the region, he said.
An ambitious project is underway to develop a 3,200-km highway linking India, Myanmar and Thailand. It was originally envisaged to be completed around 2017 but it is behind schedule and is now expected to be completed in 2018.
Wadhwa said India and the 10-nation ASEAN bloc hope to dovetail the connectivity plans with this highway.
Prime Minister Modi in a recent tweet said that India's ties with ASEAN are "deep rooted" and that strengthening relations with the nations in the grouping are an important part of its 'Act East' policy".
He said he looked forward to meeting leaders attending the two summits in Myanmar.
"ASEAN is central to our dream of an Asian century, where India will play a crucial role. Am sure the meetings there would be fruitful," he had said.
Noting that the grouping of 10 southeast nations hopes to make ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) a reality by the end of 2015, Wadhwa said the free trade pact in services and investment between India and the ASEAN is expected to help the bilateral trade touch 100 billion USD by 2015.
The bilateral trade grew 4.6 per cent from 68.4 billion USD in 2011 to 71.6 billion USD in 2012. ASEAN?s exports were valued at 43.84 billion USD and imports from India amounted to 27.72 billion USD in 2012.
At recent high level meetings, India has said there should be connectivity in all its dimensions-geographic, institutional and people-to-people.
Wadhwa said that Prime Minister Modi is keen to tap the potential offered by the Buddhist pilgrimage circuit to attract more tourists from southeast nations.
ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Referring to the East Asia summit(EAS), Wadhwa said it is a premier forum for leaders in the region. It currently has 18 members.
Besides the 10 countries in the ASEAN region and India, the other EAS members are Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, the US and Russia.
The EAS bloc represent collectively 55 per cent of the world?s population and account for around 56 per cent of global GDP.