Indian Minister of External Affairs S.M. Krishna has pledged to deepen its all-round engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as ASEAN.

Krishna delivered the commitment while addressing the opening of the Delhi Dialogue III with the theme ‘Beyond the First Twenty Years of India-ASEAN Engagement’, which began in the Indian capital city of New Delhi on March 3.

“We stand at the threshold of twenty years of the launch of the formal Dialogue partnership between India and ASEAN, which started in 1992. We look forward to holding the Commemorative Summit in 2012 in India ,” Krishna said.

“It has been a gratifying engagement for us - an engagement which has drawn strength from India ’s rapidly developing bilateral ties with individual ASEAN countries, and from our millennia-old bonds with the countries and civilisations of the region,” he added.

“The words ‘Look East’ encapsulate our renewed focus on these ties. I wonder if we have a phrase that can capture the age-old roots, cordiality and partnership that are at the heart of our Look East Policy.”

The minister went on to say that India ’s first Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was signed with ASEAN. This agreement will provide a further thrust to the almost twenty-fold increase in bilateral trade which has been witnessed in nearly 20 years since 1990.

Krishna emphasised the need to focus greater efforts on physical connectivity. “If the two can proceed in tandem, it is possible that in the space of next five to seven years, we will see a dramatic flowering of India-ASEAN relations. Connectivity will enhance the potential of Merchandise Trade and Investment Agreements that have been already put into effect or are on the anvil,” he elaborated.

In his keynote address, ASEAN Secretary General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan also stressed that ASEAN-India relations are of extreme importance, adding the two sides have implemented the India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement in Goods for a year and are targeting 70 billion USD in two-way trade by 2012.

Boasting a population of 1.8 billion and a combined GDP of almost 3 trillion USD, ASEAN is becoming a centre of growth in Asia, and that is why ASEAN and India should promote bilateral cooperation in an array of fields, the bloc’s chief noted.

Hosted by the Ministry of External Affairs, in collaboration with the Indian Council of World Affairs and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the event aims to provide a platform for the exchange of ideas to build a secure and prosperous region.

The two-day dialogue focuses on the following key aspects: Looking towards 2012 and beyond, connectivity between India and ASEAN and Enhancing India-ASEAN Cooperation in Critical Areas of Non-traditional Security Issues.

ASEAN-India dialogue relations have grown rapidly from a sectoral dialogue partnership in 1992 to a full dialogue partnership in December 1995. The relationship was further elevated with the convening of the ASEAN-India Summit in 2002 in Phnom Penh , Cambodia .

India has participated in a series of consultative meetings with ASEAN under the ASEAN-India dialogue relations, which include summits, ministerial meetings, senior officials meetings and meetings at expert-level, as well as through dialogue and cooperation frameworks initiated by ASEAN, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the Post Ministerial Conferences (PMCs) 10+1, and the East Asia Summit (EAS).

ASEAN and India have already signed a number of agreements with the aim of fostering multifaceted cooperation, including the ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity, the Joint Declaration for Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism, the ASEAN-India Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation, the ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement, and the ASEAN-India Aviation Cooperation Framework./.