Singh in Cambodia to attend ASEAN; meets Wen Jiabao
Editor & News Director, Sahara News Network
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Cambodia
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao on Monday and shared the view that bilateral relations need to be "stronger, wider and deeper".
Singh and Wen met on the sidelines of ASEAN Summit and reviewed the ties. It could be their last meeting as China has replaced its old guard with a new set of leaders.
In his opening remarks, Wen said he cherished working with Singh over the last eight years during which they met for 14 times.
"We established good working relationship and friendship between us. This is reflection of friendship between our two great nations," Wen said.
"This is possibly the last meeting between us in my remaining tenure," he said, while referring to the change of leadership in China under which he will demit office in March.
Singh hailed Wen's personal endeavour to make the bilateral relationship "stronger, wider and deeper".
He specifically referred to Wen's two visits to India in 2005 and 2010, saying these helped make the ties "stronger".
During the first visit in 2005, the two countries established Strategic and Cooperative Partnership while the second visit in 2010 marked 60th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic ties.
"I personally value working with you," Singh told Wen.
On Monday, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said that during the meeting, the Indian Prime Minister is expected to seek larger investments from China, particularly in the National Manufacturing and Investment Zones being set up in the country.
Sharma said that in the past, India has flagged, both at meetings at Prime Minister level and Commerce Minister level, the issue of a "fair trade balance" and market access for India in IT and pharmaceutical sectors. But it doesn't mean these are the only issues.
China is India's largest trade partner but the trade deficit between the two economies has ballooned to USD 23 billion in China's favour in October this year, as India continues to import more than what it exports to the country.
India and China have a set a target of taking their total trade to USD 100 billion by 2015. The total bilateral trade reached a high of USD 73.90 billion last year but the figure dropped to USD 55.6 billion in the first 10 months of this year, a drop of 8 per cent.
FTA in Goods
India and ASEAN are holding negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement in Services and Investment and are keen to conclude these before the Summit on November 19. The two sides have already signed FTA in Goods.
India's trade with ASEAN was over USD 50 billion in 2011-12 after a 30 per cent jump over the previous financial year.
Before his arrival, Singh said in a statement in New Delhi that the summit will provide an opportunity for India to enhance its economic cooperation with the region amid lingering financial crisis in the western world.
He also said that India's partnership with 10-nation ASEAN is an important component of the 'Look East Policy'.
"This year marks the 20th anniversary of our dialogue partnership and 10th anniversary of Summit-level engagement with ASEAN," he said.
Singh added that it will give an opportunity to preview and prepare an ambitious agenda for the Summit next month.
"The Summit in Phnom Penh will give us an opportunity to preview and prepare an ambitious agenda for the Summit next month to take the India-ASEAN relationship to a new level," Manmohan Singh said in New Delhi.
Sharma said that Negotiations on the much-delayed Free Trade Agreement in Services and Investment between India and 10-nation ASEAN grouping are in
the final stages and effort is being made to conclude these by next month.
India and ASEAN have already signed an FTA in Goods in 2009 but Services and Investment part is taking longer because f strong differences between the two sides.
Highlighting the importance of the FTA, Sharma noted that India-ASEAN trade before the FTA in Goods was just USD 32 billion and it has now jumped to over USD 75 billion, despite global recession.
US President Barack Obama will also be in Phnom Penh but it is not yet clear whether there will be a meeting between Singh and him because of paucity of time.
Hitting out at the opposition for their plans to "drag" decision on FDI to Parliament, the government today said the "shrill discourse" and "sensationalism" over the last few years have caused enormous damage to India's image and hoped the enthusiasm of foreign investors would now be bolstered by recent firm moves.
Sharma made it clear that there will be no going back on allowing 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail as it is a "decision cast in stone" and said the government is ready to face any challenge in Parliament.