ASEAN seeks to enhance relations with external partners and friends such as the SAARC and South Asian countries, said H.E. Madame Alicia dela Rosa Bala, Deputy Secretary-General for ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community on behalf of Secretary-General of ASEAN. She conveyed this message in welcoming the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) delegation led by its Secretary-General H.E. Mr. Ahmed Saleem to the ASEAN Secretariat during their visit this week. DSG dela Rosa recalled the long historical linkages between the two regions and how some SAARC Member States—suchas Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka—participatein the ASEAN-driven regional processes such as the ASEAN regional Forum.

H.E. dela Rosa briefed the visiting delegation on recent developments in ASEAN and ASEAN’s intensifying concerted efforts in building the ASEAN Community by 2015. She highlighted how ASEAN has embarked on an ambitious long-term strategy in improving the region’s physical, institutional and people-to-people connectivity within ASEAN and beyond. This encompasses, among others, physical infrastructure connections covering road, rail, air and sea; information communication technology; as well as trade, commerce and tourism linkages.

The two Secretariats discussed developments in the regions and reviewed the ASEAN-SAARC Secretariats’ Partnership Work Plan (2008-2009) and the future practical cooperative activities that would be mutually beneficial and in the spirit of south-south cooperation. The discussions focused on issues such as trade and investment, energy, health, agriculture, tourism, disaster management, narcotics control, trafficking in persons and poverty alleviation.

In addition to ASEAN’s experience from the ASEAN Community building process, SAARC further took the opportunity to learn about the works of other ASEAN-related institutions—including the ASEAN Foundation, the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance (AHA) Centre, and the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA). Both sides agreed that more exchanges between them would forge a closer partnership.