India will start bus services between its northeast states and Myanmar to seek closer economic and trade ties with the Southeast Asian country, said a top Indian government official.
The bus service will be between Imphal in Manipur, northeast India, and Mandalay in Myanmar, and on another road connection linking Mizoram state with Myanmar, said Anil Wadhwa, secretary in the external affairs ministry.
India will sign a free trade agreement with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on services and investments this year, after signing an FTA with the ASEAN on trade and goods in 2009, said the official, according to a press statement.
“Under the East Asia Summit, negotiations are progressing towards the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. Trade volumes between Asean and India, Asean and Japan, Japan and India, and India and the US have been seeing incremental increase,” he said.
India also aims to link Moreh in India to Mae Sot in Thailand via Myanmar while a transit transport project to connect Kolkata port in eastern India with Sittwe port in Myanmar by sea, river and road link are also on the timetable.
Road connectivity projects linking India with Myanmar and Thailand are also being rolled out in the coming years, said the official.
Wadhwa said that in addition to the initial commitment of 160km on the Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemiyo (TKK) road, India is committed to another 120km on the Kalewa-Yargyi sector and upgradation of 71 bridges on the TKK section of the trilateral highway.
“The feasibility study for the Kalewa-Yargyi sector is currently under way. We are looking at an Imphal-Mandalay bus service and technical discussions are to begin.
“We also have an MoU with Myanmar for a project on the Rhi Tiddim Road. The Kaladan Multimodal Project in Myanmar includes road and inland waterway links to Sittwe port, as also the potential for collaboration in developing an industrial zone or SEZ in Sittwe.”
Wadhwa said India was seeking to strengthen the rail network in the northeast and added that funding from the Asian Development Bank and World Bank would be welcome in this. The northeast region remains one of the most underdeveloped regions in India.
He said the “Economic Research Institute for Asean and East Asia (ERIA) has already done a study projecting the potential for the sea-link between Dawei, in southeastern Myanmar, and Chennai”.
“Maritime connectivity can be strengthened further between India, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam and production chains established from the Mekong region to the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and the Mumbai-Bangaluru-Chennai Industrial Corridor.
“Backend linkages through coastal shipping networks and riverine navigation will be important in this context so as to generate sustainable volumes of trade related traffic,” he said.
Wadhwa said the joint working committee on maritime connectivity would seek to establish a maritime link between India, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
India has also proposed an “open sky policy” on cargo on a quid pro quo basis to the Asean.
“This would help increase trade, especially in perishable commodities,” he said.
Wadhwa said Japan was “already partnering in some of the important connectivity infrastructure projects in India, including the northeast.
“We should be able to define further specific steps for increasing this collaboration with our partners.”