India hopes to clinch FTA with ASEAN soon: Pranab
New Delhi, Feb 9 (IANS) Building upon the success of the ASEAN and East Asia summits last month, India Friday underlined a "cooperative approach" to security in the region and hoped that it will conclude a bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the 10-nation grouping soon.
"Following the agreement reached at the Cebu (ASEAN-India) summit, we hope to soon conclude negotiations on a bilateral FTA with ASEAN", External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said at an international conference on Southeast Asia.
India and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations announced at a regional summit in Cebu, the Philippines, last month that they would wrap up negotiations on an FTA by July.
The two-day Asian Security Conference on evolving security dynamics in Southeast Asia, which has been organised by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), India's premier think tank on security issues, was inaugurated by Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.
Over 30 experts from 17 countries are participating in the conference.
Mukherjee enunciated India's vision of an "Asian Economic Community which would be the driver of growth and economic integration in the entire region" and stressed that such a grouping would be the "third pole" of the world economy after the European Union and the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA).
Alluding to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's vision of a pan-Asian FTA, he said that such an arrangement could prove a "starting point for a virtual Asian Economic Community" that will emerge through FTAs among countries of the region.
"Our focus, including in our bilateral dialogues and cooperative activities with neighbouring states in Southeast Asia and East Asia has, has been on issues like border security, maritime security, counter terrorism and energy security," Mukherjee said.
"Our view has been that in Asia, a pluralistic security order based on cooperative approach to security is the answer," he stressed.
Stressing that there is "a greater recognition today of India's stabilising role in the region, and its role as a firewall against destabilizing influences," Mukherjee spoke about the "political and economic resurgence of Asia and the trend towards regional economic integration."
"Encouraged by this we will continue to seek in our interaction with countries of the region greater political and economic convergence, closer people to people links through cultural cooperation and educational exchanges and meaningful security cooperation to meet our common challenges," the minister said.
Shekhawat spoke about closer cooperation to combat "new dangers to world security" like weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, drug trafficking, cyber warfare and weaponisation of space.