India on Thursday pledged to sign an agreement with the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) on services and investment by the year-end, with the target of signing a free trade agreement (FTA) by next year.
The ASEAN-India Trade-in-Services Agreement and ASEAN-India Investment Agreement is expected to be signed on the sidelines of the 9th WTO ministerial conference to be held in Bali from 3-6 December 2013.
An India-ASEAN has so far been held up because of a lack of agreement on trade in services, which is key to India signing a free trade agreement with the bloc.
Addressing the 11th ASEAN-India Summit in Brunei, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India has decided to set up a separate mission for the ASEAN region with a separate mission head as part of its ''Look East'' policy.
"In keeping with our substantial achievements, the recent elevation of our ties to a strategic partnership and the rich potential of our cooperation, I feel it would be appropriate for me to take this opportunity to announce that India will soon set up a separate mission to the ASEAN in Jakarta with a full time resident Ambassador," Singh said.
Singh said that India was ready to sign an FTA with ASEAN on services and investment, which could boost bilateral trade to $100 billion by 2015, from $76 billion last year.
"India stands ready for the signature of the India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement on Services and Investment by the end of this year and its early implementation.
"This will complement our agreement on goods and bolster our economic partnership," he said, adding that initiatives have also been taken by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) to revitalise the ASEAN-India Business Council and to set up an ASEAN-India Trade and Investment Centre.
ASEAN members, according to chairman of the bloc, were heartened to note that bilateral trade surpassed the target of $70 billion to reach $76 billion.
''We look forward to signing the ASEAN-India Trade in Services and Investment Agreement by the end of 2013 and its operationalisation by July 2014," the chairman said in his address.
"We note with satisfaction the progress of negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which would build upon the ASEAN+1 Free Trade Agreements, including the ASEAN-India FTA.
"We acknowledge that the RCEP recognises ASEAN centrality in the emerging regional economic architecture and contribute to economic integration, equitable economic development and strengthening economic cooperation among participating countries In this regard, we looked forward to its timely conclusion by 2015," the statement said.
The secretariat of the 10-member ASEAN, which include Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, is based in Jakarta.
He said India-ASEAN engagement has reached the threshold of the third decade and both sides have established a comprehensive agenda of cooperation and a wide-ranging framework to pursue it.
Singh said all the "countries have equal stakes in the security and prosperity of our shared Asian neighbourhood".
"For India, it is an article of faith of our Look-East policy that ASEAN must remain central to the future evolution of regional mechanisms, which must be open and inclusive. We share your vision and aspirations for the region and we applaud your march towards an ASEAN Economic Community in 2015," he added.
Singh said that connectivity is a strategic priority in India-ASEAN relationships, while adding that the Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemyo sector of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway was near its completion.
He said Indian officials will soon begin discussions on an ASEAN-India Transit Transport Agreement with a view to completing it by 2015. "I also look forward to the proposed Maritime Transport Working Group being set up soon," he added.
The ASEAN members also welcomed India's announcement of a separate mission for the region as an illustration of the intensification of the ASEAN-India strategic partnership.