Northeast in focus ahead of summit with Asean nations

Written by Huma Siddiqui | New Delhi | Updated: Dec 17 2012, 06:37am hrs
Indias Look-East Policy offers rich dividends to Southeast Asian countries, which will use Northeast India as a bridge to South Asia.

Being potentially one of the richest geographical areas of the country with rich natural resources, the Northeast is a strategic location for international trade. Since the announcement of the policy in 1991, the two-way trade between India and Asean is $75 billion, with $40 billion from Asean and $35 billion from India. The rapid rise in trade has led to a new focus on the countrys Northeast region, which is being transformed into a gateway to East and Southeast Asia.

In the last 20 years, we have increased our domestic capacity and there are numerous opportunities for cooperation in several sectors, said a senior MEA official, ahead of the forthcoming Asean-India Commemorative Summit 2012. At the two-day summit starting December 20, there will be nine heads of government/state, one vice-president and almost 40-plus ministers, including foreign and trade ministers.

According to a report prepared by RIS: Asean-India Connectivity Report, IndiaAsean FTA is central to Indias growing engagement with her eastern neighbours. Accompanying this growth will be an increase in the demand of national and international infrastructure, for both production and consumption, and for international trade purposes. Undoubtedly, failure to respond to this demand will slow down Indias trade and hamper the growth process. Therefore, infrastructure challenges require a better understanding and adequate support.

One of the major obstacles to the expansion of trade between India and Asean is the high cost of moving goods across the borders. Multiple effective cross-border and national transport projects mean stronger AseanIndia connectivity. An integrated connectivity would also provide substantial benefits to landlocked and small island countries of the region as well as to poor and small countries by giving them low-cost access to world market.

A cornerstone of the new development is the 3,200-km Trilateral Highway, linking Thailand and Myanmar with India, which is scheduled to be completed sometime in 2016, including more than 1,600 km of newly built or improved roads. This should promote stronger connectivity between India and Thailand and greatly facilitate business growth.

The upgraded road link, along with upgrading of 71 bridges by India, will allow freight and container trucks travel from India to Myanmar and down to northern Thailand, according to officials.

India is very keen on enhancing its engagement with Asean. Connectivity, either by land or sea, will play a crucial role in boosting trade and investment flows in the region, Anil Wadhwa, Indias Ambassador to Thailand, told FE.