The Asianist

Balanced and fact-based analysis of Asian affairs

Posts Tagged ‘ASEAN

Indian Cabinet Clears ASEAN-India FTA For Approval

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Yesterday, the Indian cabinet finally cleared the free trade agreement on services and investment with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for approval, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reportedly overruling objections by the finance ministry.

The pact, which has encountered repeated delays and is way past its August 2013 deadline, was held up again last month due to differences between Indian finance minister P Chidambaram and commerce minister Anand Sharma, which allegedly prevented it from being signed in the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Bali earlier this month. Mr. Chidambaram was reportedly concerned that Mr. Sharma did not adequately consult the finance ministry on the investment text of the agreement, in addition to several issues regarding the pact itself.

The cabinet clearance is significant because it now paves the way for India to ink the pact with ASEAN as soon as possible. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said at the 11th ASEAN-India Summit earlier this year that his government’s goal would be to conclude the pact by the end of 2013, and while that looks unlikely at this time, New Delhi has at least avoided the humiliation of backtracking from a key commitment within the ASEAN-India relationship. The irony has not been missed by those watching ASEAN-India ties carefully, since Mr. Singh’s government had repeatedly said in the past that India was more committed to this pact than some ASEAN countries but the recent roadblock has come from New Delhi.

That is important because while ASEAN countries and other external powers are eager for India to play a greater role in the Asia-Pacific and New Delhi has shown an increasing willingness to do so, the follow-through has been tortuous on some initiatives. For instance, several Southeast Asian governments faced similar frustrations when ASEAN and India were negotiating an FTA in goods, which saw several delays and almost fell through before being finally concluded in 2011 after six long years.

But concluding this FTA is not just a question of pride or symbolism. As I have written before, Indian officials, including Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid, have warned that further delays in the agreement could undermine the goal of boosting ASEAN-India trade to $100 billion by 2015. The pact also has tangible benefits for New Delhi itself, including the movement of Indian professionals in Southeast Asia and greater investments in the services sector.

While Mr. Singh deserves credit for finally securing cabinet approval for the deal, his government should seek to conclude it as soon as possible to prevent it from being ensnared once again in Indian domestic politics with an election looming.

Written by Prashanth Parameswaran

December 20, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Strengthening Ties Between Europe and Asia

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Earlier this month, I published a commentary with a think tank in Singapore on strengthening ties between Europe and Southeast Asia. It has since been republished by the EU-Asia Centre.

In it, I outline several steps to sustain Europe’s recent increasing attention to Southeast Asia in the economic, security and cultural realms. While much ink has been spilled on America’s pivot to Asia, I continue to believe it is important to pay equal attention to the EU’s shift to the East as well.

Here is an excerpt:

During his visit to Singapore recently German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle made a convincing case for deeper European Union engagement in Asia and more specifically with ASEAN. Germany is hardly alone in recognising this. Indeed, 2012 seemed to be the year of Europe’s pivot to Asia. Leading officials attended key Asian summits, and the EU made advances in its relationship with ASEAN by suspending sanctions on Myanmar, acceding to the ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and completing a successful ministerial meeting in April.

But while ASEAN-EU ties have certainly warmed recently due to Europe’s increasing interest in the region, “upgrading” the relationship between the world’s two major regional integration initiatives will require sustained and significant progress by both sides across several areas in the coming years…

You can read the full thing here.



Written by Prashanth Parameswaran

March 18, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Thinking About Asia Economic Strategy for the Second Obama Administration

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The stellar group of Asia hands at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has released an updated report articulating policy recommendations for the second Obama administration with respect to economic strategy in Asia.

The report covers several key countries including Japan, Korea, India, China and ASEAN. Some of the recommendations include supporting ASEAN ‘connectivity’ efforts and working towards a full US-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (FTA), expanding cooperation with Japan and Korea in the G-20 and bringing them into the fold of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), establishing an ambitious 10-year “New Framework for U.S.-India Economic Cooperation”, and modifying the Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) with China.

There is also a list of lessons learned recommended for policymakers drawing partly on an earlier report released on the subject for Obama’s first term, which deals with issues like negotiation, public relations and bureaucratic politics.

One of the key challenges that the study highlights for the future of Asia economic policy is the resource constraints in Washington:

For the United States to have an effective strategy in Asia, and to be taken seriously by partners there, it must have sufficient talent and resources for the job. At present, U.S. government personnel and funding devoted to Asia policy, especially in the economic arena, are insufficient to the size, challenges, and opportunities of the region. In particular, the State Department and other agencies traditionally focused on political and security issues need more senior officials versed in Asian economics.

You can read the full thing here.

Written by Prashanth Parameswaran

January 28, 2013 at 10:58 pm


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