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Bridge to Asean in trilateral highway

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh. (AFP)

Phnom Penh, Nov. 19: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said he looked forward to the completion of the Trilateral Highway, meant to link India with Thailand through Myanmar, on time.

The highway is envisaged to start from Moreh in Manipur and end in Mae Sot in Thailand. The calendar for its completion ends in 2016.

In his opening remarks at the 10th India-Asean summit here this afternoon, the Prime Minister welcomed facilitating steps that included discussions with Asean’s land transport working group, the maritime transport working group and the Asean connectivity co-ordinating committee.

“We await route alignments on the extension of the Trilateral Highway and the proposed new highway to Vietnam so that these can be examined in an integrated manner. I look forward to an early completion of these feasibility studies.”

Singh mentioned two commemorative events on connectivity this year: the India-Asean car rally that flags down in Guwahati after journeying from Singapore and the Asean sailing expedition of the India Naval Ship Sudarshini.

He flagged “commerce and connectivity” as “vital” areas of the relationship with the bloc, saying “Asean centrality is essential in the evolving regional architecture for peace, stability, development and prosperity”.

Singh picked substantive and symbolic examples to elaborate his vision of the India-Asean connect.

He said the India-Asean trade in goods was nearly $80 billion till March 2012, $10 billion in excess of New Delhi’s target, and expressed hope that pacts in other areas of commerce would be wrapped up next month.

“I would like to inform Your Excellencies that India is prepared to conclude the agreement on trade in services and investment promotion before the (India-Asean) commemorative summit in Delhi in December. This will be a strong signal of our deepening economic engagement and will allow for rapid expansion in trade and investment flows in both directions.”

In a separate response at the summit after the leaders spoke, the Prime Minister attempted to dispel the perception that India’s economic outlook was bleak and assured the gathering that steps were being taken to “further improve the investment environment and accelerate growth”.

“We look forward to increased Asean investments. At the same time, India will offer its own resources, expertise and experience to support growth and development in Asean countries where such needs exist.”

He drew the attention of the leaders to India’s “growing engagement in defence, maritime security and counter-terrorism” with the 10-nation bloc.

“Given our cultural affinity, physical proximity, shared values, convergent worldviews and similarities in our approaches to the region, our relationship will increasingly become more comprehensive and strategic in nature.”