In a candid admission that all is not well with India's pace of reforms, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today urged ASEAN countries to consider investing in the country and assured them that all bottlenecks will be cleared soon. With the SAFTA coming into effect from Jan 1, the PM stressed the need to expedite work on an FTA with ASEAN, whose leaders have been dragging their feet on the issue, ostensibly under Chinese pressure. He set a 5-6 month time frame to introduce FDI in retail. He also broached the issue of infrastructure, citing the NHDP and airport modernization as schemes that will change the face of the country. Since the PM made these comments on foreign soil, a lot of weight is being attached to them.
Arguably with the intention to entrap the Left into silence, the PM drew attention to Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's attempts at attracting foreign investment. Bhatacharjee was, interestingly, the only CM who found mention in the PM's speech.
As an aside, the PM's trip is turning into another feather in his cap after his successful Russia visit last fortnight. The momentum is likely to be carried forward with President Bush's visit in Feb 2006. This speaks volumes of the economist PM's foreign policy bent. The government is not only looking east, and with success, but is also engaging the major powers with sound diplomacy.