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India – Korea Maritime Trade: Stage Set for New Partnerships

India – Korea Maritime Trade: Stage Set for New Partnerships
With the anticipated visit of South Korean President Moon Jae-in to India this year

New Delhi looks forward to stronger pragmatic engagement with Seoul, harnessing synergies in their mutual pivots across the Indo-Pacific region, according to India’s top envoy to Korea.

Similar to Korea, which has announced its “New Southern Policy” aimed at strengthening ties with Southeast Asian and South Asian countries, India has its “Act East Policy,” which builds on the previous “Look East Policy,” with a greater emphasis on implementing policies of comprehensive cooperation.

“As Korea expands its diplomatic footprints beyond its immediate region, we have long believed that India and Korea are bound to be natural partners,” said Indian Ambassador to Korea Vikram Doraiswami.

While the exact date of Moon’s visit has yet to be announced formally, the prospective summit will be the pinnacle of both governments’ cooperative endeavors, laying the ground for further collaborations across corporate entities, civil societies and academic institutions, he added. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, paid an official visit to Korea in May 2015 at the beginning of Doraiswami’s tenure.

Building on Modi’s visit to Seoul, nearly all of India’s senior ministers have visited Korea over the last 3 1/2 years. They include the ministers of external affairs; finance; defense; commerce and industry; road transport, highways, water resources and shipping; railways; science and technology; information technology and electronics; and human resources development.

The bilateral trade in 2017 grew by 30 percent on both sides from the previous year, reversing a negative trend that had started in 2011, according to Korean official statistics cited by the Indian Embassy in Seoul. Investment flows have gained momentum, with Korean firms having plowed nearly USD 3.5 billion in the last three years into India’s automobiles and auto components, electronics, chemicals, technical textiles, food processing, finance and other industries.

The two countries are currently in the final stage of negotiation to upgrade the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement — a bilateral free trade agreement that entered into force in 2010 — with an aim to improve the competitiveness of each side’s goods and services in their markets, and spur synergies in information technology and electronics, energy and shipbuilding, according to the diplomatic mission.

“Our goal is to be able to find synergies between areas of India’s strengths and Korea’s needs, and vice versa. Shipbuilding is one such area in which Korean firms could look at India’s naval roll-out strategically, as a means of ensuring standing business orders for future decades,” noted the ambassador.

Doraiswami said India is keen to buttress its partnerships with countries across the Indo-Pacific region: a concept describing the evolving geopolitical and economic order surrounding the Indian Ocean’s tropical waters, the western and central Pacific Ocean and the Southeast Asian seas.

“In addition to strengthening our maritime industry in the oceans economy, we are rapidly expanding our naval and coast guard capabilities that include aircraft carrier groups, submarines and aircrafts,” he said. “Our security needs require an extensive scaling-up of our existing platforms. Some USD 35 billion worth of equipment are currently on our navy’s shopping list for procurement over the next decade and beyond.”

The ambassador encouraged Korean shipyards and their tier-one companies, which have faced industrywide financial difficulties in recent years, to create partnerships with India’s maritime enterprises. The Indian market can not only sustain their businesses, but also create jobs on both sides, he said.

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