Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday morning left New Delhi to visit Brunei and Indonesia, as India looks for greater economic ties with the South-East Asian countries.
Singh will attend the ASEAN-India Summit and the East Asia Summit on October 10 in Brunei Darussalem, before leaving for a bilateral visit to Indonesia, where he will be accompanied by external affairs minister Salman Khurshid and commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma.
The visit assumes significance as India is looking to ink a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) on services and investments by the end of 2013 with ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations), a ten-member block of countries like Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
"The summit in Brunei will be the first since the elevation of our relations with the ASEAN to a strategic partnership at the Special Commemorative Summit in New Delhi and the conclusion of the India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement in Services and Investment in December 2012," the prime Minister said in an official statement before leaving for the meet on Wednesday.
An FTA on goods is already in place between India and ASEAN and it has significantly helped expand the trade with this regional block. The ASEAN-India trade currently stands at US $76 billion, which is targeted to be increased to US $100 billion by 2015 and to US $ 200 billion by 2022.
The areas of cooperation between India and ASEAN range across sectors like science and technology, agriculture, environment, human resources, space, energy, telecom, infrastructure, tourism, culture, health and pharmaceuticals.
During the East Asia Summit, a forum for international cooperation among ASEAN countries and Australia, China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the US, a formal inter-governmental agreement is expected to be signed on the ambitious Nalanda University in Bihar.
The University, set to come up 12 kms from the Nalanda ruins, may start its first academic session from 2014.
On the sidelines of the summit in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of Brunei Darussalam, Singh is also expected to meet his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott and the two leaders may discuss issues related to uranium sale.
Singh is also likely to discuss cooperation with East Asian countries in areas like drug trafficking, piracy and security issues.
The East Asia Summit integrates a market of more than three billion people with a combined GDP of US $ 17.23 trillion.
The issue of gas imports from Brunei, along with other areas of energy cooperation, is also expected to come up for discussions during Singh's visit.
After Brunei, Singh will visit Indonesia from October 10-12 and is expected to discuss key issues of security, trade and investments, connectivity and cultural cooperation with top leadership there.
In recent years, India and Indonesia have considerably expanded their cooperation in areas like trade, defence and security.
Trade and investments between the two countries have shown a positive growth trend and reached US $ 20 billion in 2012-13, despite a dip last year due to the global financial situation. The trade has grown almost five times since the establishment of a strategic partnership in 2005.