India continued to pursue closer relations with South East Asia and the Pacific region as envisioned in its ‘Look East Policy’ during the year. With some countries in the region, we stepped up relations to the strategic level, while diversifying and strengthening relations with others. Regular exchange of high level visits at bilateral level and interactions at regional and multilateral fora contributed to a higher degree of engagement among leaders in the region to help develop renewed dynamism in India’s relations with these countries. In the last five years, Prime Ministers, Presidents and Ministers of several countries in the region visited India. Our leaders also visited various countries in the region. These visits and signing of several framework agreements have significantly contributed to India’s growing relations with countries in this region.
The bilateral trade and investment between India and countries in ASEAN have considerably increased, touching about US$ 40 billion in 2007-08. India – ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in goods has been successfully negotiated and is ready for signature. With the implementation of India-ASEAN FTA, the trade with ASEAN countries will cross the target of US$ 50 billion by 2010. Meanwhile, bilateral FTA is being negotiated with several countries in the region, the conclusion of which would significantly enhance the two-way trade. The trade with Australia also crossed US$ 10 billion.
For the socio-economic development of countries in the region, India continued to provide assistance to Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Philippines in the form of grants, soft loans and credit lines and training courses, under ITEC scheme. As a Dialogue Partner of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) countries, India has been engaging with Pacific Island countries by providing regional assistance in capacity building and social and economic programmes and sustainable development. In response, India succeeded in eliciting support from majority of the countries in the region on issues of India’s interest such as India’s candidature for UN Security Council membership, Commonwealth, civil nuclear cooperation etc.
India’s growing profile has attracted countries in the South East Asia and Pacific region to foster closer engagement at the regional and multilateral fora such as ASEAN, EAS, BIMSTEC, MGC and ARF.