India’s Role in Promoting Asean Co-operation: Civil Services Mentor Magazine February 2013


ASEAN is a regional intergovernmental organization formed by the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand through the Bangkok Declaration which was signed by their foreign ministers on 8th August, 1967. Brunei joined in 1984, Vietnam in 1995. Laos and Myanmar in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999. Papua New Guinea also has observer status. Its main objectives are to accelerate economic growth, Social progress and cultural development to ensure the political and economic stability of the South East Asian region.

In the beginning India did not have cordial relations with ASEAN due to certain doubts and suspicions on both sides. While India was suspicious of underlying American diplomacy, ASEAN was wary of India due to its closeness to Russia. For example, in 1982 India supported Hague Samarin government in Combodia which had the support of Vietnam, whereas ASEAN recognized the Democratic Kampuchean coalition- the opponent of Hague Samarin. Though India always wanted to join the ASEAN in view of its steady economic progress, Indonesia. Philippines and Thailand were not in favour of India joining ASEAN, because it feared India’s hegemony due to its sheer size and population.

India-ASEAN relations, as they exist today, are in some ways, a, reconfiguration of age-old ties that date back 2,000 years. Only the modes of trade have changed. Instead of the silk route, countries now use tech-oriented routes to link up. ASEAN, the latest version of what was the Asian trade network ages ago, is an effort to establish cooperation in the economic, social, cultural, technical, educational and other fields among its member countries, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Darussalam, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. For a relationship that began warming up only about a decade ago, the India-ASEAN partnership has been trotting at quite a fast pace. India became a sectoral dialogue partner of ASEAN in 1992. The sectors were trade, investment, tourism and science and technology.

Mutual interest led ASEAN to invite India to become a full dialogue partner of ASEAN during the fifth ASEAN summit in Bangkok in 1995 and a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (AREF) in 1996.
India signed an agreement in October 2003 for a free trade area (FTA) with Thailand. Under the agreement, 84 items can be imported from Thailand from April 2004 at 50 percent of the normal rate of duty prevailing in India. The pact with Thailand is to be followed by a similar agreement with Singapore and, ultimately, the entire ASEAN region and India is committed to aligning its peak tariff to East Asian levels by 2005. India has also been engaged in negotiations to form ‘a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with Singapore. Sub-regional cooperation has accelerated too. The Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) and the BIMST-EC (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Economic Cooperation) are indicators to this effect. In 2003, India acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in South-East Asia, signed a declaration to combat international terrorism and agreed on comprehensive economic cooperation to step up their current trade turnover of S 12 billion. Among ASEAN members, Singapore and Malaysia have been India’s most prominent trading partners and India’s trade with Laos has been the least in valve terms.

Trade Cooperation

The deepening of ties is beginning to show in the intra-country trade figures. India-ASEAN trade in 2010-11 was about $51.10 billion, over six times the 2003-04- trade figure of $9.78 billion. India- ASEAN trade during the calendar year 2009 was - exports $ 17.3 billion and imports $ 23.8 billion and during 2010 - exports $ 22.3 billion and imports $ 27.8 billion. India’s trade with ASEAN had increased by 30 per cent in 2010- 2011, crossing the $50-billion mark, and with such a rate of growth, the target of $70 billion by 2012 would be feasible. India’s trade with ASEAN has increased by 30 per cent in 2010-2011 and has crossed the $50 billion mark. According to the prime minister, “With such a rate of growth we should be able to achieve our trade target of $billion by 2012. Pushing for greater physical connectivity between India and ASEAN, ‘remains the strategic objective70.’ There are several proposals under consideration with regard to land and sea connectivity, which include the India- Myanmar-Thailand Highway, its extension to Laos and Cambodia and the development of a new highway also linking Vietnam.

Growth in India’s exports to ASEAN in recent years has been much higher in comparison to other destinations. As expected, trade relations have led to a spurt in people-to-people links, giving a boost to tourism. It will only grow further when India and the ASEAN countries establish the planned road and rail links between them To take this step further, a motor car rally has been organised by India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Government of India and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CID in close cooperation with the member-states of the ASEAN and the ASEAN Secretariat. At this point, India is poised at a strategic moment from where it can pitch for better cooperation with the ASEAN countries.