The ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has invited India to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to enhance mutual market access among partners. This is reported by Trinity Mirror, a partner of TV BRICS.
The ASEAN regional grouping comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Speaking to a delegation of Indian media, ASEAN Secretary General Kao Kim Hourn said an inclusive, open and rules-based trade pact would benefit all partners.
He said that joining the RCEP is beneficial for India as it will provide it better market access and also for other countries as trade deals are reciprocal.
It may be recalled that India had withdrawn from the RCEP in 2019, emphasising that the decision was taken in the interest of the local industry and the country. An official statement then said that the structure of the pact was not in India's interest.
The RCEP is a comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA) involving ASEAN member countries and five other nations - Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand. It is one of the largest FTAs globally, representing around 30% of the global GDP.
Emphasizing the importance of improved air connectivity between India and ASEAN nations, Kao Kim Hourn expressed the need for an aviation agreement to facilitate direct flights between the two sides.
He highlighted the tourism sector's recovery post-COVID-19 and cited the increasing number of Indian tourists visiting Bali, a popular destination in Indonesia.
The ASEAN Secretary General acknowledged the existing collaboration between India and ASEAN across various sectors and called for deeper cooperation in other areas. He mentioned that the free trade agreement between India and ASEAN is currently under review.
He highlighted the huge trade and investment potential of India-ASEAN relations while emphasising the population size of the two countries. Referring to the huge market size, he pointed out that while India has 1.4 billion people, the ASEAN region has 680 million people.
Bilateral trade between India and ASEAN is estimated to be $131.5 billion in the fiscal year 2022-2023. In the current fiscal year, trade with ASEAN accounted for 11.3 per cent of India's total global trade.
Recalling Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Jakarta in September this year to attend the ASEAN Summit, Kao Kim Hourn said the group attaches great importance to partnership with India.
The fact that the two sides' high-level leaders are able to meet frequently means that India and ASEAN nations have common interests, he said.