World

Calls for Asean, India to press on with economic integration

Ministers called on Asean and India to press on with economic integration, with Singapore's leaders plumping, in particular, for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade pact as a key way to do so.

Leaders also highlighted the enormous potential for greater cooperation between Asean and India, and pledged yesterday - the final day of the Asean-India Pravasi Bharatiya Divas conference - to work more closely together.

The annual conference, which celebrates the achievements of the Indian diaspora, was held with an Asean theme this year to mark 25 years of dialogue partnership between India and the regional bloc. Singapore, the Asean chair, hosted the meeting.

"India and Asean can benefit greatly from greater economic integration and greater openness, especially with our economies and people. We need to build more bridges, not walls, between us," said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in his opening address yesterday.

His Indian counterpart, Ms Sushma Swaraj, also outlined her vision for the region, saying: "For India, Asean leadership and centrality is essential to peace and prosperity for a rapidly changing Indo-Pacific region."

She noted that their dialogue partnership had evolved into a strategic one over the past 25 years and said the Asean region is at the heart of India's Act East Policy.

Ms Swaraj added that India's trade agreements with Asean were among the most ambitious with any region.

But Dr Balakrishnan singled out the RCEP - spearheaded by Asean and involving six of its key partners - calling it a historic opportunity to set up the world's largest trade bloc.

If it comes to fruition, the RCEP would cover half of the world's population and a third of its gross domestic product.

At the gala dinner, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean pledged that Singapore as Asean chair will do what it can to secure the support of India and all the other RCEP countries to advance negotiations.

Apart from trade, Asean and India's leaders also highlighted other areas, such as tourism, for cooperation.

The leaders also highlighted challenges to tackle together, such as generating jobs in an age of disruption.- ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NUR ASYIQIN MOHAMAD SALLEH

WORLD