Mr Co-Chairman,
Ladies and Gentlemm

1. On behalf of my ASFAN colleagues, I would like to warmly welcome His Excellency, the Minister of Finance of India, Mr Palaniappan Chidambaram, to Kuala Lumpur on the occasion of the 30th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting/Post Ministerial Conference.

2. India will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of its independence beginning 15 August 1997 just as ASEAN embarks on its 30th year of existence as a regional Organisation. I take this opportunity to extend ASEAN’s congratulations and best wishes to the Indian people and government.

3. Although the ASEAN-India dialogue process is still in its infancy, we are developing a solid foundation for more substantive dialogue relationship. The expansion of ASEAN to include Laos and Myanmar has made India, geographically contiguous to ASEAN. This has profound psychological, economic, political and strategic implications for both sides. In the coming years, ASEAN and India must strive to achieve more synergy and concrete cooperation from this proximity.

4. In functional matters and economic cooperation, the First ASEAN-India Joint Cooperation Committee (JCC) Meeting held in New Delhi in November 1996 had charted a number of specific courses. Two Working Groups, one for trade and investment and the other for science and technology, were established. These are vital areas for the economic progress of all our peoples. In the coming months, ASEAN and India should finalise the procedural matters for the two Working Groups so that they could proceed to substantive programmes.

5. The private sector in ASEAN and India has also forged closer links following the activities under the JCC. The ASEAN-India Business Council (AIBC) met in March this year in Jakarta. It drew up an Action Plan to carry private sector collaboration forward. The publication of the ASEAN-India Business News and the launching of the ASEAN-India Commercial Directory are two useful steps to better inform the business community and to improve the interface between the two sides. AIBC and the respective economic agencies of ASEAN countries and India will flesh out the Action Plan and integrate the existing cooperation in the private sector.

6. ASEAN is looking forward to the first ASEAN-India Senior Officials Meeting (SOM), the political and security analogue to the JCC, to be held next year, The ASEAN-India SOM will provide an essential forum for regular interaction among senior officials on political and security issues of mutual interest, This SOM will also pave the way for more substance to be injected into the ASEAN-India dialogue process.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

7. We now have the road map for the relatively young ASEAN-India Dialogue partnership. It may appear modest but the results arc deliverable and within a relatively short gestation. The process has been a tested one and a step by-step approach is prudent. The challenge is to build on the foundation that we have laid.

8. The economic liberalisation of India and the expansion of ASEAN will afford us new opportunities for cooperation, An expanded ASEAN will not only offer Indian companies bigger markets for their products, but also more investment opportunities. An expanded ASEAN has the potential to be a tremendous economic and political force. It will have a market of about 500 million people and a combined GDP of close to US $l trillion. ASEAN countries are also investing heavily in India, particularly its Infrastructure development and human resource utilisation. A thriving ASEAN-India partnership will contribute positively and significantly to the economic growth of the larger Asia-Pacific.

9. As we strengthen our political and economic links, we should recognise the role our peoples play in determining the success of our relationship. In this regard, efforts should be made to develop closer links between ASEAN and India, notably in the fields of culture and tourism. This will not only promote and intensify understanding between ASEAN and India, but also deepen the already existing channels of communication.

10. In closing, let me reiterate on behalf of my ASEAN colleagues that we, believe there is great potential for the ASEAN-India partnership and we want to work together with India to exploit.