Modi pitches for India-ASEAN FTA amidst RECP talks

04 Nov 2019


Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday told a meeting of ASEAN leaders that India is clear in its stand that any trade agreement among groups should be beneficial to all parties and that India has put forward “reasonable proposals" in a clear manner as it continues to engage in the talks with “sincerity" for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The prime minister's comments came as negotiators from 10-nation ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and six other countries - India, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand - are engaged in intense negotiations to seal the deal at a summit of the bloc in Bangkok on Monday.
Speaking at the opening session of the 16th ASEAN-India Summit in Bangkok, on Sunday, the prime minister expressed happiness in being part of the 16th India-ASEAN Summit. He thanked Thailand for the warm hospitality and extended best wishes to Vietnam for taking over as chairman of next year’s summit.
Prime Minister Modi said that India’s Act East Policy is a significant cornerstone of the Indo-Pacific strategy; adding that ASEAN is at the core of Act East Policy. A strong ASEAN will immensely benefit India. The prime minister highlighted steps being taken to improve surface, maritime, air and digital connectivity. 
He said India will extend a $1 billion line of credit for improving physical and digital connectivity in the ASEAN.
The prime minister highlighted that decisions at last year’s commemorative summit and the informal summit in Singapore have brought India and the ASEAN closer. “India is willing to increase cooperation and partnership in areas mutually beneficial to India and ASEAN, he said.
The Indian prime minister also expressed readiness to improve partnership with the ASEAN for capacity building in areas of agriculture, research, engineering, science and ICT.
The prime minister said India wanted to strengthen cooperation in the areas of maritime security and blue economy. He also welcomed the recent decision to review India ASEAN FTA saying it will improve economic partnership between the two countries.
If finalized, the RCEP deal will facilitate creation of the biggest free-trade region in the world as the 16-nation grouping is home to 3.6 billion people, or nearly half the world's population.
“India remains committed to a comprehensive and balanced outcome from the ongoing RCEP negotiations. Their successful conclusion is in the interest of everyone involved. Hence, India seeks balance across goods, services and investments, and also within each pillar," Modi said in an interview to Bangkok Post newspaper.
Addressing a gathering to celebrate the Suvarna Jayanti (Golden Jubilee) of the Aditya Birla Group in Suvarna Bhumi, Thailand, Modi said India today has one of the most people friendly tax regimes...In the last 5 years, we have lowered the tax burden on the middle class considerably. We are now starting faceless tax assessment so that there is no scope for discretion or harassment. You would already have heard of India's decision to cut the corporate tax rates. Our GST has fulfilled the dream of economic integration of India. We want to work towards making it even more people friendly. All of what I have said just now makes India one of the world's most attractive economies for investment,” he said.
India beckons
India, he said, received $286 billion FDI in the last five years, which is almost half of the total FDI in India in the last twenty years. 90 per cent of this came through automatic approvals. And 40 per cent of this is Green Field Investment. This shows that investors are taking a long term call on India. India’s growth trajectory is reflected in several ratings. 
India is among the top 10 FDI destinations as per UNCTAD and has moved up 24 places on the Global Innovation Index of WIPO in five years. 
But, more importantly, he said India has jumped 79 places in the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ rankings in five years - from 142 in 2014 to 63 in 2019. And India is among the top ten reformers for the third year in a row. 
India also improved its ranking in the World Economic Forum's Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index  - from 65 in 2013 to 34 in 2019. This jump is among the biggest. The number of foreign tourist arrivals have also gone up by 50 per cent. 
These rankings come after looking at the impact of the transformation. These rankings are not a forecast . They are a manifestation of what has already happened on the ground.
With its talented and skilled human capital and one of the world’s largest start-up eco-systems, India is one of the largest and fastest-growing markets for digital consumers, he said, adding that India has all that is needed to be a global manufacturing Hub.
‘Thailand Four Point Zero’ focuses on transforming Thailand into a value-based economy, built on science, technology, innovation and creativity. It is also compatible with and complimentary to India’s priorities. India’s initiatives such as Digital India, Skill India, Ganga Rejuvenation Project, Swachh Bharat Mission, Smart Cities and Jal Jeevan Mission offer good opportunities for partnership,” he said.
“Our vision for India’s development is such that it also leads to a better planet. When we are looking at giving top quality and affordable healthcare to 500 million Indians through Ayushman Bharat, it will naturally lead to a healthier planet. When we decide to eliminate TB in 2025, five long years before the global target of 2030, it will surely strengthen the global fight against TB. At the same time, we are sharing our accomplishments and best practices with the world too. Our South Asia Satellite is helping so many people in our region. Especially students and fishermen - When India prospers, the world prospers, he said.
India, the prime minister said, is now pursuing another dream - to become a five trillion dollar economy. In 2014, India’s GDP was about $2 trillion, but in just 5 years, we increased it to nearly $3 trillion. “This convinces me that the dream of a $5 trillion economy will soon become a reality. We are going to invest $1.5 trillion for next generation infrastructure, he said.
India received $286 billion FDI in the last five years. This is almost half of the total FDI in India in the last twenty years - 90 per cent of this came through automatic approvals and 40 per cent of this is green field investment, he pointed out. 
India also improved its ranking in the World Economic Forum's Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index. From 65 in 2013 we are ranked 34 in 2019. This jump is among the biggest. The number of foreign tourist arrivals has also gone up by 50 per cent. 
If we are getting substantially more tourists, it means that our efforts on the ground are bearing fruit. The fact that India has better roads, better air connectivity, better cleanliness and better law and order is bringing the world to India, he added.

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