Fri, 05 Sep 2003

Vajpayee opens India-ASEAN business summit

Reiner S., The Jakarta Post, New Delhi

India's Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee inaugurated on Thursday the second India-ASEAN Business Summit as part of the effort to boost economic and business cooperation between the two.

But while dozens of business players from Malaysia and Singapore participated in the event, Indonesia was represented by only one businessman, Rudy Pesik, together with a couple of officials from the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Office of the State Minister for Research and Technology.

In his opening speech, Vajpayee said that two-way trade between members of the Association of South East Asian Nations and India could be further increased from last year's volume of more than US$10 billion to $15 billion over the next two years, and $30 billion by 2007.

"Trade and investment are the basic building blocks of the India-ASEAN relationship. India-ASEAN trade now exceeds $10 billion, but has barely scratched the surface of its potential," he told hundreds of business leaders and political leaders from around the region.

The summit will last for two days in New Delhi and one day in Mumbai. Among the key economic sectors to be discussed during the summit are agriculture and food processing, and biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, and tourism.

While the main aim of the summit is to promote greater economic cooperation, analysts have said that collaboration was also crucial to counterbalancing the fast growing dominance of China in the Southeast Asian region.

Indeed, with a combined population of 1.5 billion people, a growing middle class, and progress in economic recovery and reform programs, there is a compelling rationale for both ASEAN and India to boost trade and investment cooperation.

Trade and investment activities between India and ASEAN were disrupted by the 1997 East Asia economic crisis. But since 2000, trade and investment volumes have started to pick up although India's exports to ASEAN at $3.7 billion in 2002 were well below the high of $4.2 billion recorded in 1996.

Singapore and Malaysia together accounted for about 90 percent of India's total imports from ASEAN in 1991, according to data from India's chamber of commerce and industry (FICCI).

Although their combined share has fallen over the years, the two countries still enjoy a dominant position and account for 67 percent of India's imports from ASEAN. The share lost by Singapore has been captured by Malaysia and Thailand to some extent but in more recent years, it is Indonesia that has emerged as the main beneficiary, with its share of India's total imports increasing from 3.7 percent in 1991 to more than 20 percent in 2002.

Elsewhere, Vajpayee also said that companies from ASEAN countries were participating in India's ambitious infrastructure development program.

"India has committed $12.5 billion in this fiscal year alone for the development of national highways, airports, ports, and convention centers. There are obvious opportunities for ASEAN in these infrastructure projects," he said.

He said that India could share with ASEAN its expertise in space technology.

"India has built and launched a number of satellites, both for itself and for other countries. We can offer this service to ASEAN countries at considerably less cost than they incur at present."

He explained India, and the Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation (BIMST-EC) group were working towards a Free Trade Arrangement.

The event also marked the launching of the ASEAN-India business portal at