Open up skies between India and ASEAN: Shanmugam

Open up skies between India and ASEAN: Shanmugam

INDIA - Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam, who is on a three-day visit to India, advocated opening up the skies between India and ASEAN countries, saying greater airline connectivity would further enhance economic ties.

He also urged early negotiation of an advanced air transport agreement to increase the number of tourists and business travellers between India and ASEAN countries including Singapore.

"There are 400 flights (between India and Singapore every week) and it is not enough. We are seeking to do more. In fact, with better air connectivity, a lot more can be done," said Mr Shanmugam.

Demand outstripped supply, he said during the inaugural lecture on the challenges ahead for ASEAN and India at the newly opened ASEAN-India Centre in New Delhi.

He noted that more than 700,000 Indians visited Singapore last year.

The centre was set up by the think-tank Research and Information System for Developing Countries in June as a resource centre for India and ASEAN member states.

For greater economic cooperation, Mr Shanmugam said that India's decision to go ahead with the regional comprehensive economic partnership, involving ASEAN, was encouraging.

He also welcomed the India-ASEAN agreement on services and investment negotiations, which is to be signed next month.

Singapore and India share close ties, with the former helping India to be given full dialogue partnership in ASEAN in 1996.

Economic ties have grown particularly since the two countries signed a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement in 2005, which gave Singapore an early-mover trade advantage in India over other countries. Singapore-India trade has more than doubled from about US$9 billion in 2004 to US$24 billion last year, while the total trade between ASEAN nations and India stands at US$80 billion (S$101 billion).

India and ASEAN signed a free trade agreement in 2009, leading to trade increasing by more than 40 per cent from the 2009 figure to US$75 billion in 2011.

Mr Shanmugam, who is on his second visit to India as Foreign Minister, also noted that in spite of slowing growth, the Indian economy still held a lot of promise.

"I think it's fair to say objectively India has received a fair bit of negative publicity... When you come here and see for yourself, you see a country on the move," Mr Shanmugam told Singapore reporters before the lecture.

"Yes, growth could have been higher and potential can be higher. Nevertheless, growth is still significant. It is an economy on the go."

During his lecture, Mr Shanmugam said that the ASEAN countries had full faith in Myanmar discharging its duties as chair of ASEAN next year.

He also noted that the ASEAN countries had a tough year in 2012 as tensions mounted in the region over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. But he said the grouping had managed to find a way to ease tensions.

"We have come to a stage where claimant and non-claimant countries have agreed to start government-to-government talks on a code of conduct. There are good outcomes... but the dispute on territorial claims is not going to be resolved in my lifetime.

"What can be done is to have a framework so disputes don't escalate into shooting incidents and into tensions which impact the entire region."

China agreed last month at an ASEAN forum meet to develop rules to avoid conflict in these waters.

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