Vietnam's prime minister on Friday pledged his government will take the lead to bring India closer to Southeast Asia's burgeoning economies.
Nguyen Tan Dung, speaking to Indian and Vietnamese business leaders in New Delhi, says he wants to see trade ties smoothed between India South Asia's economic powerhouse and countries in his region.
Mr. Dung says negotiations should begin between India and Vietnam on a free trade agreement so both nations can enjoy more favorable conditions. He adds that a similar pact should be negotiated between India and the ten-nation Association of South East Asian Nations, known as ASEAN.
The prime minister said Vietnam is ready to be a bridge between India, which has adopted a "Look East" policy, and ASEAN.
Trade, cultural and religious ties between Vietnam and India, which introduced Buddhism to Southeast Asia, go back two thousand years. But modern-day relations following independence of both countries in the mid-20th century have been low-key, although warm.
India, a former British colony, was a vocal supporter of communist North Vietnam's fight against French colonialism and the subsequent American-backed South Vietnamese regime.
Vietnam now touts itself as Asia's second-fastest- growing economy. Indian-Vietnamese trade has increased ten-fold over the past decade but only totals about one billion dollars.
In recent years, Indian companies have undertaken substantial investments in Vietnam's steel, oil, gas, agricultural and pharmaceutical sectors. Speaking at an India-Vietnam business forum Friday with the visiting prime minister listening, India's state minister for external affairs, Anand Sharma, called for the two Asian countries to build a wide-ranging strategic partnership.
"Strategic in all sense - the political understanding and relations, the economic understanding and also when we look at the overall defense and security in the region."
Prime Minister Dung also echoed those sentiments in his speech just moments after Sharma spoke to the forum. Both countries share a traditional distrust of China, which launched attacks on India in 1962 and Vietnam in 1979.
India and Vietnam have lingering border disputes with China as well. On his three-day visit, which also took him to Kolkata and Mumbai, the Vietnamese leader was accompanied by 15 ministers and vice ministers. It was the first visit by a Vietnamese prime minister to India in a decade. His delegation also included more than 70 top officials of leading Vietnamese private and public-sector enterprises.
At a meeting Friday afternoon with Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, Vietnamese officials signed agreements on cooperation in the areas of nuclear science, agriculture, fisheries and shipping Vietnamese officials, while in India, announced they hope to secure 150 billion dollars worth of foreign investment over the next five years to boost domestic growth and combat poverty.