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PM leaves for India-ASEAN Summit

india Updated: Nov 20, 2007 09:37 IST

PTI
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Ways to expand cooperation with East Asian countries will top the agenda of two-day visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who left for Singapore on Tuesday to attend the ASEAN and East Asia Summit.

"I will discuss with the ASEAN leaders new measures to expand the horizons of our cooperation," Singh said ahead of his visit which is aimed at further strengthening India's "Look East Policy".

He said the cooperation should include not just greater economic integration but also people-to-people contacts, science and technology, health, transport, human development and information and communication.

Noting that the trade between India and the ASEAN had been growing rapidly, Singh said it had "surpassed" the expectations as it stands at USD 30 billion.

India and ASEAN are negotiating a Free Trade Agreement aimed at opening up their markets but differences over duty reduction in palm oil, pepper and tea have become stumbling blocks for firming up the pact.

Keen to resolve the sticking issues in the FTA, an official panel is meeting in Singapore to negotiate tariffs on sensitive items ahead of the Summit.

Trade ministers from India and ASEAN are also expected to make last ditch efforts to iron out differences in the trade pact.

In Singapore, the Prime Minister will also attend the third East Asia Summit, which he described as "one of the most ambitious exercises of community building and integration ever attempted in Asia".

The East Asia Summit has identified five areas of cooperation -- energy, education, finance, avian influenza and national disaster mitigation.

"India has taken and is ready to take many initiatives in these areas," Singh said.

Pointing out that East Asia is home to some of the fastest growing economies of the world, he said creation of a cooperative framework will have a profound impact on the global economy and international relations.

"India's role in the success of this enterprise is crucial," he said.

During the visit, a special exhibition will be held to depict revival of Nalanda as a centre of excellence.

Singh will attend a reception hosted by Singapore Prime Minister Lee to coincide with the exhibition for which many ancient and priceless artefacts have been specially flown from India.