The Prime Minister has urged for a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the association, which is growing in significance with every passing year. The growing political and economic significance of the region was evident with the active participation of the United States (U.S). Greater diplomatic engagement and enhancing trade ties with ASEAN holds high significance for India, which has began to walk the talk on its Look East Policy. At the same time, the 10 countries of the region, would continue to enhance their cooperation with China, Japan and South Korea within the ASEAN Plus Three Framework. In recent times, U.S and European countries have been more proactive in their engagement with the South-East Asian countries. As such, in the emerging global scenario, India needs to continue to strengthen the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
For a change, the recent SAARC Summit got a respite from the Indo-Pak cold war. Proactive role in revitalizing SAARC is crucial for ensuring stability in the region, dealing with repercussions of global credit uneasiness and thwarting further Chinese influence. Ironically, Pakistan again played the spoilsport by continuing to flip-flop on the Most Favored Nation (MFN) status to India. The association has to move beyond symbolism to further strengthen diplomatic and economic ties between the member states. The association, which once seemed to have lost relevance assumes higher significance in the fast changing global economic scenario, which presents opportunities as well as challenges for the region. The opportunities are in the form of greater trade ties, creating a Trans-South Asian transportation system, which could be extended to neighboring Myanmar and other countries of South-East Asia. The benefits of such a system would be manifold and would help in strengthening people to people ties, generate employment, and aid in economic development of several cities and towns across the region. The ongoing political reforms in Myanmar augurs well and could help in combating terrorism and ensuring stability in the region. Strong SAARC in turn, could help India and other member states in seeking more leverage with ASEAN and open the way for greater economic prosperity in South and South-East Asia.