New Delhi, Dec 21 (IANS): After travelling nearly 8,000 km through nine countries, the ASEAN-India car rally was flagged in by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the Indian capital on Friday, marking a "new journey of closer cooperation and a deeper strategic partnership" through increased connectivity.
Manmohan Singh along with his wife Gursharan Kaur flagged in the rally at Vigyan Bhavan. The ceremony was attended by leaders of the 10 ASEAN nations who are here for the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit marking 20 years of their partnership.
Addressing the event, Manmohan Singh said he had no doubt that a new era awaits both India and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). The car rally had entered India on Dec 17 at Guwahati, Assam.
The event comes a day after India and ASEAN elevated their ties to a strategic partnership and finalised a pact for free trade area in services and investments.
The prime minister said the car rally highlights the connectivity between India and ASEAN which are "joined together on land and by water, with shared borders and shared cultures".
Manmohan Singh said the rally "symbolizes the vision of an ASEAN-India community where people, goods, services and ideas can travel freely between us". He said their "physical bonds will be strengthened by digital links, which will help our younger generations to network better" and "unleash the vast economic potential of our region, accelerate development and deepen our strategic partnership".
The increased connectivity would especially benefit the northeastern states, he said adding that he would "encourage the establishment of institutions linked to the India-ASEAN relationship in the northeastern states".
Remarking that India-ASEAN relations "are at an exciting stage", the prime minister expressed confidence that the FTA on services and investments would be as "transformational" as the FTA on goods.
India and ASEAN, which share two-way trade of $80 billion, have targeted trade of $100 billion by 2015.
India became a sectoral dialogue partner of the grouping in 1992 and was elevated to full dialogue partner in 1995 in recognition of the country's rising stature and economic potential. Since 2002, the two sides have been holding annual summits.
The Confederation of Indian Industry has been part of the car rally and has held business meets enroute to boost economic ties with the ASEAN countries.