|Gursharan Kaur in
Hanoi, Oct. 30: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today expressed hope that all formalities for implementing the trade-in-goods agreement India signed last year with Asean nations would be completed soon, as he pressed for economic integration of the Asia-Pacific region.
The conclusion of a services and investment agreement will be an important step in our goal of comprehensive economic co-operation, he said, addressing the eighth Asean summit here in the Vietnam capital.
The India-Asean Trade in Goods Agreement was signed in Bangkok in August 2009 after six years of negotiations and came into force on January 1 this year.
The trade pact, which covers a market of almost 1.8 billion people, was aimed at eliminating duties on most products traded between India and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Singh announced extension of visa-on-arrival facility to travellers from Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Laos from January 1 as part of the overall package for the initiative for Asean integration.
He said an Asean-India memorandum of understanding for co-operation in tourism was in place and awaited ratification. We invite many more tourists from the Asean countries to visit India to see the splendour of its rich cultural heritage, he added.
The Prime Minister said full tourism potential among the Asean countries had yet to be realised, although in recent years people-to-people exchanges had increased with improved air-connectivity. More than three million Indian tourists visit Asean (countries) every year and about 380 flights connect India and Asean countries every week. This is well below the potential, he said.
Stressing that connectivity was the fulcrum driving Asean co-operation, Singh said India would offer 100 IT scholarships to each Asean country over the next five years. Science and technology, he added, was another focus area of co-operation.
Singh emphasised the importance of help in political and security matters through expanded bilateral exchanges to deal with the common threats the member states and their allies face and also to build mutual trust and understanding. The Asean, he said, was the core around which the process of economic integration of the Asia-Pacific region should be built.
The Prime Minister said India expected to reach a growth rate of 8.5 per cent this year and sustain the figure at nine to 10 per cent to attract stakeholders in trade and investment.