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ASEAN knocks on India's door

The ASEAN countries and India held a summit this week to discuss a range of economic, cultural, and political issues. Clearing the way for an expanded free trade agreement between the bloc and the economic giant was at the top of the agenda:

[T]he two sides concluded negotiations to expand their free trade agreement (FTA) to services and investment, and took a stride towards the aim of increasing trade to US$100 billion (S$122 billion) by 2015.

The talks come a year after ASEAN and India implemented an FTA in goods - creating one of the world's biggest free trade areas with a market of about 1.8 billion people and a combined gross domestic product of US$2.8 trillion.

But as Reuters reports here, the summit also had a strategic dimension:

Southeast Asian nations and India vowed on Thursday to step up cooperation on maritime security, a move that comes amid tension with China in the potentially oil- and gas-rich South China Sea.

In a vision statement agreed at a summit in New Delhi, India and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) set their sights on a new "strategic partnership" that would bring closer political, security and economic cooperation.

Significantly, they underlined the need for freedom of navigation, a contentious issue because of competing claims with Beijing over parts of the South China Sea, though there was no mention of China in their statement.

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