Easy cargo movement, startup collaboration key for India-ASEAN relationship: CII

Ahead of the India-ASEAN Summit next week, industry has pushed to prioritise the expansion of the scope of the Bilateral Air Services Agreement to enable easier cargo movement, and suggested collaboration between the startups of both sides in digital payments, e-commerce and cybersecurity, home healthcare, e-pharmacy, and fitness and wellness apps. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has also said that India’s pharmaceutical industry can become a key supplier of generic drugs, medical devices and vaccines to the ASEAN nations.

ASEAN, or Association of Southeast Asian Nations, comprises 10 countries—Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Brunei and Laos.

“A regional approach to energy security will help manage its supply and demand m crucial requirement of these high-growth economies,” CII said in its report titled “ASEAN-India: Identifying emerging opportunities together”.

It added that India has begun collaboration with a few ASEAN countries such as Vietnam and Myanmar in areas such as renewable energy, and development of refineries.

With the success of CO-WIN app, India can support other countries who may want to use CO-WIN or design a similar digital vaccination management system, according to the industry chamber.

“An ASEAN Visa and cross-country exchanges related to cultural and leisure programmes will go a long way in increasing people-to-people connectivity and potentially boosting SME trade,” CII said in its report.

ASEAN-India trade witnessed a decline of 9.2% in FY21 owing to the pandemic and ASEAN’s trade expansion with US and China. The decline in trade and India’s increasing trade deficit in the last few years have led to a call for a review of free trade agreements (FTA) with ASEAN, as India targets better trade balance.

“The review will be aimed at issues such as removal of non-tariff measures, especially in the auto and agriculture sectors, and rules of origin,” CII said.

This is crucial as since the FTA finalisation, India’s imports from ASEAN continued to increase sharply, in comparison with exports. As a result, India’s trade deficit increased to $15.9 billion in FY21 from $4.9 billion in FY11.