India and South Korea agreed to explore a tripartite partnership for development in third countries, beginning with capacity building programmes in Afghanistan.

OPENING UP the possibility of export of marine products to South Korea, India on Tuesday signed a joint statement on Early Harvest Package of the Upgraded Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), following a bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The joint statement said that while resolving to work towards promoting mutual prosperity, the two countries “agreed to expand bilateral trade, including through the early conclusion of ongoing negotiations to upgrade the ROK-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). In this regard, we welcomed the finalization of the elements of an Early Harvest Package that would lead towards an upgraded CEPA.”

The statement urged the business community from both countries to leverage opportunities arising from complementarities between the two economies, to enhance investment, promote joint ventures, and work towards the goal of raising bilateral trade to $ 50 billion by 2030. Currently, bilateral trade stands at $ 20 billion. Praising Moon for his “tireless efforts” towards denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, Modi also made an oblique reference to Pakistan’s links with North Korean nuclear programme. India has always maintained that disgraced nuclear scientist from Pakistan, A Q Khan, is behind the North Korean nuclear programme. “During our talks, I told President Moon that proliferation linkages between North-East Asia and South Asia is a matter of concern to India. Therefore, India is also a stakeholder in the peace process. We will do our bit to ensure peace,” said Modi.

Moon, who recalled his first meeting with Modi on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hamburg on July 2017, said India’s Act East policy and his government’s New Southern policy are complementary. “Now is the right time to lift the partnership to the next level,” he said, recalling that India and South Korea already have a “special strategic partnership”.

The two sides signed 11 agreements covering a broad spectrum of areas for cooperation, including artificial intelligence, biotechnology, railways, culture and trade. Recognising the important role of the two countries in ensuring peace and stability in the region, they agreed to explore further possibilities to coordinate efforts in the defence and strategic spheres in order to benefit from each other’s unique capabilities and experience.

“In this context, South Korea and India will enhance military exchanges, training and experience-sharing, and research and development, including innovative technologies for mutual benefit. We also agreed to encourage our defence industries to intensify cooperation in this regard,” said the joint statement. Recognising the link between prosperity and security, the statement also made a reference to China’s proactive and assertive activities in South China Sea. “We reaffirmed the importance of freedom of navigation, overflight and unimpeded lawful commerce. We supported initiatives for peaceful resolution of conflict through dialogue, underlying the centrality of sovereignty and territorial integrity, in accordance with the universally-recognized principles of international law,” it said.

The vision document said the two leaders also reaffirmed that terrorism cannot be justified on any ground and sought coordinated regional and global efforts. The two sides also resolved to work together to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems, particularly to terrorists and non-state actors. Referring to the recent summit between North Korea and South Korea and talks between US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, the two leaders hoped these developments would contribute to complete denuclearisation as well as lasting peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula.

While there was no mention of South Korea’s position on India’s bid to become a permanent member of United Nations Security Council, the joint statement expressed broad support for India’s bid to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. “Recognising India’s contribution and commitment towards global non-proliferation efforts, we reaffirmed that India’s membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group will further strengthen the international non-proliferation regime,” it said.

The two countries also agreed to explore a tripartite partnership for development in third countries, beginning with capacity building programmes in Afghanistan.

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