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Direct flights between Philippines, India seen to boost ties

NEW DELHI — Opening up direct flights between the Philippines and India can boost people-to-people investments and tourism exchange in both countries, Philippine Ambassador to India Teresita Daza said.

Daza made the pitch at the eight edition of the Delhi Dialogue here as India is pursuing air, land and sea connectivity with ASEAN nations to strengthen economic activities in the region.

Daza said tourism and education are among the key issues that need to be advanced for the Philippines to cope with other ASEAN-member states.

However, Daza lamented that no Philippine airlines or any airline had offered to have direct flights from Manila to India or vice versa.

“I think on visa travel, one has to consider the issue of physical and air connectivity. The Philippines is at a disadvantage because we do not have a direct flight from the Philippines to India,” Daza said.

“But in due time, I think, this is something that will be considered.”

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Daza also batted for enhanced physical connectivity, in terms of transportation, telecommunication and transaction networks in government. 

“The global value chain flow – ASEAN revolves largely when it comes to economy of ASEAN itself, China, Taiwan, Japan, Europe and the US.  So much can still be done, as a basis of this, the signing of several FTAs between ASEAN and India in the past two decades, should help the movement of services within the region,” she said, referring to free trade agreements.

“I’d like to speak specific to the Philippines, an enabling environment in terms of people to people exchanges such as business-to-business meetings, tourism and enhanced physical activity which I already mentioned would aid in the facilitation of the value chain,” she added.

Daza noted that under the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), about 98 percent of goods in ASEAN are already zero duty.  

India is also aggressively pushing for the construction of the Trilateral Highway project with Myanmar and Thailand.

“I guess the main issue at hand is the gap between ASEAN economies and India, and other economies for that matter in terms of liberalization policies and regime, which we all have to address,” Daza said.

Daza, who was part of the ministerial discussion on the issue of integrating regional value chains and production networks, noted that the government plays a major role in this issue.

“I’d like to concur that the government does play a catalyzing role when it comes to making a global chain environment a reality. How do we do that? I think one which we should address is the issue of enhanced people to people,” Daza said.

“This can be taken at a number of fronts, tourism for example…(there is) a marked increase in India and the ASEAN,” she added.

In the Philippines, Daza reported an increase in terms of visa application for tourists last year. From the first five months of 2015, Philippines welcomed about 31,246 tourists—a record increase of 27.40 percent compared with 24,525 tourist arrivals from India from January to May 2014.

“But tourism is not the only one. There is also education that can be promoted… This is something that can be encouraged,” she said.

“For example, we just came back from an educational roadshow… We are amazed by the number of students who want to study medicine (in the Philippines), numbering about 6,000 as of the latest count,” she added.

Regional peace and stability

At the start of the forum, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj underscored the need for peace and stability in the region.

She noted that the global landscape changed in the past year, owing it to terrorism. The ASEAN-India partnerships have now been beset by the challenges of terrorism, extremism and sectarianism, the foreign affairs minister added.

“Peace and stability are essential pre-requisites for progress and development. In this context, we are all aware of the importance of ensuring maritime security, which has emerged as an important area of concern in recent times,” she said.

Swaraj also expressed concern on the disputes over the South China Sea, where China has been battling with some claimant countries.

“The oceans and seas, including the South China Sea, are pathways to our prosperity and security,” Swaraj said.

She said the security of sea routes in the Asia-Pacific “is essential for India’s economy as a majority of our global trade flows across the straits of Malacca and beyond.”

“Moreover, the development of a Blue Economy and optimum utilization of marine resources can only take place within the ambit of internationally recognized rules and norms,” Swaraj said.

The Blue Economy is a marine-based economic development model that leads to improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.

Sea row resolution

Swaraj joined calls for the peaceful resolution of the sea disputes.

“The need for resolving disputes peacefully, without threat or actual use of force, cannot, therefore, be underestimated,” she said.

Top officials have echoed for the need to resolve the issue of the West Philippine Sea through the crafting of a Code of Conduct among ASEAN member states and under the ambit of the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS).

“In this regard I would also like to stress that we support the evolution of an inclusive, balanced, transparent and open regional architecture for security and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific,” she said.

India continues to deepen ASEAN-India consultations and cooperation through various ASEAN-led for a, including the East Asia Summit, ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus, and Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum, the Indian foreign minister added.

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