India should try to improve its presence in the Asia Pacific region to counterbalance China's growing influence there, President Pranab Mukherjee said on the return flight of his state visit to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and New Zealand.
Reacting to a question on Chinese influence on the island nations, he told Press Trust of India: "You know nothing happens automatically. We shall have to make efforts."
President said that India is looking forward to an early conclusion of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with New Zealand, with both our mutual concerns resolved.
The process, which has seen 10 rounds of talks starting from 2010, is stuck over issues related to certain agricultural products. However, he noted that the country had "come a long way from the days when our agriculture required total protection."
Citing India-Sri Lanka FTA that helped the bilateral trade grow by 20 times, the president added: "I understand government is considering this aspect carefully. Of course when you enter into an FTA, it boosts your bilateral trade substantially."
Lauding the Narendra Modi government for organising two summits of Asia Pacific Island countries, he hoped the third summit scheduled to be held at PNG will have high-level representatives as a part of Indian delegation.
"I do feel it is time for us to expand our relationship, both horizontally and vertically in trade, commerce, investment and sharing technical expertise in respective fields," he said with regard to both the countries.
PNG's voluntary support for India's "legitimate claim" to permanent membership of the UNSC was appreciated, he added.