SINGAPORE: India's trade with the South East Asian nations is below potential, the Indian High Commissioner to Singapore Jawad Ashraf said on Saturday, as he underlined the need to give priority to micro, small and medium enterprises to boost exports to these countries.
The India High Commission here has organised a five-day long India Week, between January 24 and 27, during which a series of events covering culture, art, cinema, cuisine, philosophical discourses were organised.
To support further growth in trade, the High Commission organised "India-Singapore Trade: Sustainability, Strengths and Strategies - Making it Work for Smaller Businesses" with a focus on promoting exports from micro, small and medium enterprises sector, handicrafts and cottage industry, including Khadi products, from India.
Also, over 100 MSMEs from India, led by the High Commission, participated in the seminar. "India's trade with ASEAN Region is below potential. It is showing modest growth and constitutes about mere 2.5 percent of ASEAN's total trade," Ashraf during an event.
The Indian High Commission is working on a wide range of trade and cultural promotions with the Association of South East Asian (ASEAN) region, the official said. He said the High Commission attaches priority to supporting the MSME sectors as "this sector accounts for over 45 per cent of India's exports". "They are a huge source of livelihood, employment and empowerment in India. The products are based on local ecology and biodiversity and are sustainable, and they bear the 'unmistakable stamp' of India's culture, traditions and skills," the High Commissioner said. "This was also linked to the celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi with year-long activities and events, given Mahatma Gandhi's strong advocacy and support for these sectors of our economy," Ashraf added.
He said that the events provided consumers to contextualise the Indian products during the annual Singapore Indian International Expo. "We also have the presence of Indian artisans (this week), who demonstrate how their products are made," said Ashraf, who hoisted the Indian Flag and reception for 1,200 Indians in Singapore at the Republic Day Celebration on Saturday. The High Commission would like to help grow the Expo and India Week into a major platform for traditional Indian exports not just to Singapore, but also to ASEAN Region, he added.
Ashraf said that the Indian Government has taken a number of steps to create an enabling environment for exports from MSMEs, including improved logistics, trade facilitation, ease of doing business, lower corporate taxes, major improvements in and relief under the GST regime, concessional finance, quality assurance and certification and market support.
He also said noted that the India-Singapore trade lagged behind engagement in other areas, including political, defence, innovation and investment, besides people-to-people and cultural links.
To boost trade, India and Singapore have launched a third review of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), the High Commissioner said, adding India is also set to be part of the negotiations of the 16-country Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which should be concluded this year.
This is in addition to India's Free Trade Agreement with the 10-nation ASEAN Group. Ashraf said he wants to see companies build on these enablers and expand the export-oriented companies' footprint the ASEAN markets, including Singapore as a regional gateway.
Highlighting the advantages for India, he said Singapore is a regional gateway with excellent connectivity. It has a conducive business environment, a large and vibrant community, industry bodies like Singapore-India Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI), the High Commissioner said.
Ashraf also launched a book written by eminent Singapore-based journalists having strong experience and knowledge of India. Launching the book on Friday, Ashraf praised the topics covered in the 38 chapters of the "India's Next Leap Forward: Essays on its Socio-Economy".