Doing trade, driving down to Myanmar just got easier

By Rahul Dass, IANS,

Yangon : Indians may soon be able drive down to Myanmar and do business with a country that is perfectly situated to play the role of an economic bridge between India and China and between South and South-East Asia.

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Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went on a three-day official visit to resource-rich Myanmar that ended Tuesday – a prime ministerial trip from India to the hitherto isolated nation aftere 25 years – a trip that saw the inking of a dozen agreements that would improve connectivity, expand trade and forge intellectual links through their think-tanks.

Connectivity between the neighbours – who share over a 1600 km land border – was topmost on the agenda and the two countries decided to cooperate in a number of road building projects and the prime minister hoped in Yangon that “the very symbolic Trilateral Highway that will connect India, Myanmar and Thailand can be fully built by 2016”.

Once the highway is complete, it would be possible to drive down from India via Myanmar to Thailand and beyond.

The two countries also agreed to launch a bus service from Imphal, the Manipur capital, to Myanmar’s commercial hub of Mandalay.

Not just overland, the visit saw improvement in air travel too. The new air service agreement would enhance direct air connectivity and the two countries would also explore rail and shipping links.

India is also implementing the Kaladan multimodal transport project that involves upgrading the Sittwe port in Myanmar and constructing a highway to connect the town of Paletwa in Chin state to the Indian border in Mizoram state.

This project will help revitalize the local economies of these backward areas and link them with important commercial and shipping arteries. India hopes to complete it by 2015.

The need for building academic linkages was underscored in two pacts signed after wide-ranging talks Monday between Myanmar President Thein Sein and Manmohan Singh in Myanmar’s new capital Nay Pyi Taw.

A memorandum of understanding on cooperation has been inked between the Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies (MISIS) and the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) and another MoU to establish linkages between the MISIS and the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses was signed.

India is keen to create a regional economy that can become a hub for trade, investment and communication in the region and the trip would help Indian businesses find a market in a country with a population of over 54 million.

The two countries also agreed on fighting terrorism and insurgent activity, a reference to the festering issue of Indian rebels from the northeast operating from inside Myanmar’s border jungles. Thein Sein declared that his country will not allow its soil to be used for anti-India activities.

India announced it would undertake the task of repair/upgradation of 71 bridges on the Tamu-Kalewa friendship Road. Investments by Indian companies in areas like ports, highways, oil and gas, plantation, manufacturing, hospitality and ICT would be encouraged following the visit.

Also, the Reserve Bank of India would sign an MoU with the Central Bank of Myanmar on currency arrangements.

India-Myanmar trade is currently pegged at $1.2 billion. New Delhi is looking at doubling it by 2015.

(Rahul Dass can be contacted at [email protected])