India is a "very important" partner to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) when it comes to economics and connectivity, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday (Sep 8).
At the ASEAN-India Summit, held on the final day of the region’s bloc meetings, Mr Lee said both the Indian and ASEAN markets were “large and vibrant economies".
"If both sides can work together to integrate their economies to enhance trade and investment flows, we will have a big impact (on) Asia's growth," he declared, pointing to the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area (AIFTA) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as pathways for both parties to do so.
Said Mr Lee: “The AIFTA remains the main vehicle to drive ASEAN-India economic cooperation. It was signed six years ago, and it is timely to review the Trade in Goods (TIG) Agreement.”
He then identified the RCEP – a proposed free-trade agreement between ASEAN and Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand – as possessing the potential to transform the East Asian region into a “single and integrated” market comprising nearly half of the world’s population and about a third of its current annual GDP.
“It’s not economic opportunities but a key way for India to engage in the Asia Pacific and boost its strategic relevance to the world,” said Mr Lee.
He also branded India as an essential link in regional connectivity, citing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a US$1 billion line of credit to promote projects between ASEAN and India, such as the development of an India-Myanmar-Thailand highway and an India-Myanmar-Laos-Vietnam-Cambodia highway.
“These are ground links and to complement them, air connectivity is essential,” Mr Lee added. “A liberal ASEAN-India Air Transport Agreement (AIATA) will allow carriers to seize this golden opportunity, while linking key cities in ASEAN member states and India.”
“Singapore has long supported India’s strategic engagement of our region… we can look forward to the next chapter in relations, with deeper engagement and more robust cooperation,” he said.