India’s relation with Association of South East Asians (ASEAN) evolved from 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 and ASEAN have also become strategic partners. With each ASEAN member, India has developed a growing diplomatic, economic and security partnership.

ASEAN is also one of India’s major trading partners. Trade and investment flows have multiplied several times. ASEAN is India’s fourth largest trading partner; India is ASEAN’s seventh. Over 20% of India’s outbound investments go to ASEAN. Led by Singapore, ASEAN is India’s leading source of investments. India’s free trade agreements in the region are its oldest and among the most ambitious anywhere.

An important mechanism to strengthen the ties between ASEAN and India is the ASEAN India Senior Officials Meeting (SOM). The first such meeting was held in February 1998 at New Delhi and provided an opportunity for reviewing the progress in the relations and setting the future direction. The SOM have since been held regularly.

On 11th and 12th April 2019, the 21st ASEAN-India Senior Officials’ Meeting (SOM) was held at New Delhi. The Meeting was co-chaired by Vijay Thakur Singh, SOM Leader and Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India and Busaya Mathelin, SOM Leader and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kingdom of Thailand.

Delegates from both sides discussed the ways and means to further strengthen cooperation in a number of areas such as combating terrorism, violent extremism and transnational crimes; maritime cooperation; enhanced regional connectivity; trade and financial; investment and economic cooperation; climate change; agriculture; disaster management; science and technology; education; cultural and people to people linkages; sustainable development; and narrowing the development gaps.

The 21st ASEAN India SOM reviewed the ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership. According to an official release by Thailand Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the meeting provided a platform for ASEAN and India to discuss key cooperation in moving forward the ASEAN – India Strategic Partnership. On the economic front, India reaffirmed its commitment to cooperate with ASEAN in finalising the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations in 2019, and to work towards achieving the bilateral trade target of 200 billion USD by 2022.

On connectivity, the meeting agreed to enhance cooperation on land-air-sea connectivity, including marine protection and blue economy in Thailand later this year. In addition, both sides welcomed the impressive developments in India and ASEAN and had a constructive exchange of views on regional and international issues.

The Meeting also decided to impart urgency to Cooperation in Renewable Energy and hold an ASEAN-India Conference on Renewable Energy in 2019. It was agreed upon that The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and ASEAN Centre for Energy (ACE) would be the co-partners for this project.
Both sides also exchanged views on the evolving regional architecture and major power relations, and regional economic architecture and economic developments, including the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations. India reaffirmed its support for ASEAN Centrality in the regional architecture and in ASEAN-led mechanisms.

The meeting reviewed progress made in the implementation of decisions made by the Leaders at the Informal ASEAN-India Breakfast Summit in November last year as well as the Plan of Action to Implement the ASEAN-India Partnership for Peace, Progress and Shared Prosperity (2016-2020).
The meeting further explored ways and means to effectively address the unimplemented measures contained in these important documents. A Calendar of ASEAN-India Activities for the year 2019 was also announced at the meeting.

The 21st ASEAN-India SOM advanced the relations between India and ASEAN and marked yet another successful chapter in the ever-growing relations between the two.