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Asean Affairs 12 December 2012
Mr. Amitav Ghosh (second from left) and Mr. Wadhwa with HRH Princess
Maha Chakri Sirindhorn ahead of the Food Festival Opening
By Natalie Scarr & Swarup Roy
Cars, Culture, Cinema, Cuisine, Commerce Connect India, Thailand and Asean
opening of the Indian Food Festival was presided over by famous author,
Mr. Ghosh, whose most prominent literary works include ‘Sea of
Poppies’, ‘The Glass Palace’ and ‘River of Smoke.’ As the guest of Honor
Mr. Ghosh’s speech was filled with his personal ties to Thailand and
Myanmar. He explained that in ‘The Glass Palace’ he wrote about the
final days of Burma’s last king, Thibaw, who was exiled to India's
Ratnagiri, in the southwestern part of Maharashtra State.
H.E. Mr. Anil Wadhwa,
world-renowned writer came to be invited to Thailand by Mr. Wadhwa
through interesting circumstances – they were classmates during college
at St Edmund Hall in Oxford.
"The ambassador always came first in his classes," Mr. Ghosh shared with the invited guests.
concurrently with the festival is the passage of Indian naval ship INS
Sudarshini that is tracing an ancient sea route of trade between India
and the ASEAN countries, calling into nine ASEAN countries along the
way. Leaving Kochi, the southern sea port in India back in September, it
will conclude the sojourn in late March 2013.
has a symbolic meaning and emphasizes the sea connectivity between us
all. The major focus for us is how to increase trade and that can
primarily be either by sea or by land,” Mr. Wadhwa says.
India’s Ambassador to Thailand in a free - wheeling interview speaks about the recent level of unprecedented activities which has brought India and Thailand & Asean closer, culminating in the leaders of ASEAN getting together in New Delhi to chart the future direction of ASEAN-India relations at the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit on December 20-21, 2012.
Mr. Anil Wadhwa in his office at the Indian Embassy.
India’s Ambassador to Thailand, Mr. Anil Wadhwa, has spearheaded much of these efforts. His first year in office has shown a very determined and forward thinking diplomat. He began by organizing the visit of Thailand’s Prime Minster, Yingluck Shinawatra, to India’s annual Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi in January and is close to giving the finishing touches to the free trade agreement between the two countries. “I opted for this post and I was very much looking forward to it,” Mr. Wadhwa, 55, says. “I had been to Thailand twice, for tourism and on work for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) seminar for the Thai armed forces so I was very happy to be posted here.”With a history in the Foreign Service since 1979, and postings as varied as Poland, Beijing and Oman, his expertise meant he was able to achieve positive results very quickly in Thailand. “We organized for the Thai Prime Minister to be the chief guest for the Republic Day in India - that’s an honor that India gives to very few people. I went for that trip with her. Six MOUS were signed during the visit so it was a very good start.”
Several recent unique events in Thailand by the Indian Embassy have enhanced further the strong ties between the two countries. It began with the centenary celebrations of Indian Cinema in October, followed by special showing of two blockbuster movies of filmmaker Prakash Jha at the Bangkok Film Festival, the India-Asean Car Rally racing across nine ASEAN countries, the Indian Food Festival in Bangkok in November, a literary event at Chulalongkorn University celebrating three acclaimed Indian writers culminating in a business marker event on 3 December pairing businessmen from Thailand with those from the North-East region of India. A super charged string of activities which brought the people, business community and the governments of the two countries even closer.
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during her early 2012 visit.
Free-trade Agreement Close to Settlement
The Rally then moved onto Myanmar on the 10th of December. To send the cars off, the Ambassador attended another reception in Sukhothai in Thailand to ride with and see the drivers off. Something he says was, “hugely exciting.” Along with the recent Indian Writing in English conference and a popular centenary of Indian cinema where Ten of Indian's landmark films were shown, the Indian community has had a wealth of recent events and support in Thailand.
His main focus in Thailand has also been negotiating a free trade agreement between Thailand and India, which is currently very close to finalization. Mr. Wadhwa says it should be finished before the Commemorative Summit between India and ASEAN in New Delhi happening on the 20th and 21st of December this year.
“It means a lot for each country. At the moment we have a limited free trade agreement in force for 84 items, which are goods. Now maybe another 180-odd items will be added to that list. That will boost bi-lateral trade, which is currently nine billion dollars. Also it will give us a chance to have more professionals to move and work in each other’s economies. And the second part is the investment promotion. So you have a free field for people to invest in any sector that they want provided they follow the guidelines in that country. Employment visas would also become simpler.”
Many recent interactions between India and Thailand as well as the ASEAN countries are to increase connectivity and trade. Currently one of the main initiatives is the Trilateral Highway project that will connect the Manipur State of North East India with Thailand’s border through Myanmar.
“This is a very important initiative of connectivity between India, Thailand and Myanmar. The Indian government has allocated 500 million dollars to the Myanmar government for grants and aid. They will use 100 million dollars to build a section of the trilateral highway. The Northern part of this highway is being built by Indian companies right now,” Mr. Wadhwa explains. “And we will also build 71 bridges for freight traffic. After which, 83 kilometers of the lower section will be completed by the Thai government. This highway will also open a very important gateway to Thailand to the Dawei deep sea port in Myanmar which Thailand is constructing.”
He says that these plans will then expand to include more of the ASEAN countries after 2016.
“Eventually the tri-lateral highway will connect up with a number of economic corridors from the West to the East and also to rail corridors from North to South. We then want to expand the trilateral to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia for which MOUs have been signed. Connectivity is extremely important for the whole region to develop and to make sure it uses its potential. Right now many areas are land locked and they can’t export easily so this is what we want to provide so that it will lift the people out of the relatively less prosperity they now have.”
Events to Elevate Connectivity
This focus on connectivity has inspired the current unprecedented level of activity by the Indian Embassy in Thailand. The series of events was started with an Indian Food festival held at Ginger Restaurant from November 28 at Centara Grand, Bangkok.
“We had a week-long festival. There were two chefs from India who prepared specialized dishes from various parts of India. We opened this event with a book reading by famous Indian author Amitav Ghosh. We wanted to generate interest in Indian cuisine. Fortunately we don’t have to do much for that as Indian restaurants are present all over Thailand,” he smiles.
Indian Food Festival Opening: Varin Sachdev, Chatchada Kongtoranin, Mr. Matias Antonio Senra de Vilhena, Minister – Counsellor Deputy Head of Mission of Embassy of Brazil; Chef Gaurav Malhotra, guest chef from India; Ambassador Mr. Anil Wadhwa, Kristina Sethaputra, Siam Sethaputra.
Famous chefs Guarav Malhotra and Nand Kishore of The Ashok, New Delhi oversaw the event that featured regional specialties in a buffet style. A traditional tandoor oven was also delivered from India especially for the banquet. Attendees at the opening night included M.R. Malinee Chakrabandhu, Mr. Deepak Mittal and Mr. Kuku Oberoi, founder of the Music and Arts Festival.
To aid this they have also organized business marker events in many of the countries that the ship docks. The most recent of these was held in Bangkok on December 3 at Centara Grand, under the title of, ‘Promoting Business Linkages between ASEAN and India's Northeast.’ This was a joint initiative organized by the Embassy of India
and CII (Confederation of Indian Industries) with active support from FTI (Federation of Thai Industries).
Due to the sad passing of former Indian Prime Minister Dr. I.K. Gujral on November 30, Industry ministers from the Northeast States of India and India’s Commerce Minister scheduled to attend the business marker event were unable to join. However, there was a delegation of 22 people from India present at the seminar and who met with the 150 Thai businesspeople to discuss joint ventures and investments.
The two main topics of discussion were the Roadmap for Asean-India Connectivity and Business Opportunities in India’s Northeastern States. Notable speakers included Mr. Wadhwa himself, The Thai Minister of Commerce Boonsong Teriyapirom and
Senior representatives of Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) and Confederation of Indian Industries (CII).
Mr. Wadhwa at the Bangkok Business Marker Event - ‘Promoting Business Linkages between ASEAN and India's Northeast.’
In his speech Mr. Wadhwa again emphasized the huge potential closer commerce and connectivity ties between Thailand and India would have to promote both trade and investment. He said this was highlighted further by Thailand’s Look West and India’s Look East policies.
“This active involvement of so many agencies and the presence of such large number of Thai and Indian businesspersons here today is an indication of the strong interest among governments and businesses of both countries to explore and exploit the potential that exists for mutually beneficial partnerships,” Mr. Wadhwa said during the conference. "The Asean Economic Community, which by 2015 will bring greater integration in the region, will also have higher attractiveness for Indian enterprises wishing to trade and invest more in the region. Trade between the two nations is projected to reach US$14 billion by 2014, from the current $9 billion (Bt275 billion).”
Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom was of the opinion that the ties made with the geographically closer area of Northeast India had the potential to be the bridge to connect Thailand and India – Asia’s third largest economy after China and Japan.
"The Northeastern region of India will be a key strategic location that will provide Asean member countries with numerous trade and investment opportunities," Khun Boonsong said.
With 26 percent of the planet’s population, the potential is huge for India and Asean. The value of Asean-India trade was registered at $76 billion last year, but is pitched to reach $90 billion by 2015.
Satish Sehgal, president of the Indian-Thai Chamber of Commerce, told the audience that the Tri-lateral highway being built would certainly provide impetus to increase the export amount from Thailand into India and Myanmar currently. He pointed out that India had high demand for everything, whether goods or services. Not only is its growing middle class fuelling this demand, India has a large upper-income market.
He said products that have potential for higher trade in India are fruits and other foods, products of small and medium-sized enterprises such as fresh flowers, gems and ornaments. Services such as restaurants, hotels, and tourism could also see greater opportunities as Indian travellers favor Thailand.
India-ASEAN Car Rally
The other exciting and large initiative that was undertaken was the impressive India-ASEAN Car Rally. A total of 31 SUVs donated by an Indian Automobile major Mahindra & Mahindra and 124 rally participants entered Thailand twice as part of the race through nine ASEAN countries between November 26 and December 20.
“This was a huge event. In Phuket on November 30 I hosted a reception for all the rally participants and citizens there as well as the Indian community and the guest of honor was the Governor of Phuket. Then in Bangkok on the 2nd of December the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Surapong Tovichukchaikul flagged off the rally in the afternoon,” says Mr. Wadhwa with satisfaction.
At the seaside resort of Phuket, the reception was held at the Hilton Hotel in Karon. With the Guest of Honor Khun Maitri Inthusut happily meeting guests with Mr. Wadwa, a great night enfolded. Attendees were entertained with a cultural performance that included a Kathak performance and tunes from a tabla maestro.
The location of the hotel next to the beach made for a interesting venue for the rally attendants.
One of the Mahindra & Mahindra SUVs during the Flag Off Ceremony in Saranrom Palace, Bangkok on December 2nd.
Unfortunately Mr. Wadhwa’s proposed similar Bangkok reception by for the India-ASEAN Rally, which was to also host Ministers of commerce and industry from both India and Thailand, was cancelled also due to the passing of Dr. I.K. Gujral. However the ‘Flag Off’ event held at Sanam Chai Road on December 2nd, in front of Saranrom Palace, welcomed much media and public attention. The Rally’s Bangkok checkpoint drew in a crowd of approximately 1000 as well as Ambassadors and representatives of ASEAN countries, senior officials from the Government of Thailand, representatives of India multinational companies, Kirloskar Brothers and Apollo India.
In his address Dr. Surapong Tovichakchaikul highlighted the heightened interaction between India and ASEAN in 2012 through both governmental as well as civil links.
He applauded the closer relationships being enjoyed by these events. In his address, Ambassador Wadhwa said that the connectivity with ASEAN in all its dimensions – physical, institutional and people-to-people – is a strategic priority for India. He also expressed his appreciation to the Government of Thailand for extending generous hospitality to the Car Rally and making the excellent arrangements for the passage of the Rally.
Mr. Wadhwa and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Surapong Tovichukchaikul (center)
Mr. Arthayudh Srismoot, Director General of the Department of ASEAN Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand gave a brief report on the Car Rally and arrangements made by his Ministry so that the convoy of cars could have an easy and well-managed journey through Thailand.
at Flag Off Ceremony with flag bearing representatives from other Asean Countries.
The Rally then moved onto Myanmar on the 10th of December. To send the cars off, the Ambassador attended another reception in Sukhothai in Thailand to ride with and see the drivers off. Something he says was, “hugely exciting.”
Along with the recent Indian Writing in English conference and a popular centenary of Indian cinema where Ten of Indian's landmark films were shown, the Indian community has had a wealth of recent events and support in Thailand.
Suvannee Chinchiewchan, VP of the SF Cinema group, Thai- Indian actor Savika Chaiyadej and Indian Ambassador H. E. Anil Wadhwa
with other Thai stars at the Opening of the Indian Centenary Film Festival in Bangkok.
Organized by the Indian Embassy in cooperation with the Directorate of Film Festivals and SF World Cinema, the ten films were shown ranging from the very first Indian film, ‘Raja Harishchandra’ made in 1913, through to Bollywood blockbuster ‘Maqbool.’
Following this, at the 10th World Film Festival of Bangkok between November 21 and 25, famous film Director Mr. Prakash Jha showed two of his films, Aarakshan and Chakravyuh. The respected director was accompanied by film star Ms. Anjali Patil for the Bangkok screenings.
The Ambassador is uniquely proud of the variation and scope of all of these events – something he says he plans to continue.
“All these events have helped put together building blocks for the future and we hope to have more. It’s a good feeling to be involved with everything from commerce right through to cultural exploits.”
With another two years to go of his tenure in the Kingdom, the resolute Ambassador is determined to keep the momentum going when it comes to Indian and Thai relations.
“I think it’s very important for us to increase India’s investments into Thailand and vice versa. We have complimentary economies so we can benefit a lot from each other. We have this large chunk of population from India which is in Thailand and more Thais are going to India and plus we have a long history behind us.
This interaction is only going to improve and we have a very solid basis for it. Therefore I think my focus is going to be trade and investment mainly and whatever one can do to promote that should be done.”
(Centre): India’s Ambassador to Thailand, H.E. Mr. Anil Wadhwa
(R-L) Prashant Agrawal (Dep Chief of Mission, India), Gwen Robinson (Bangkok Correspondent, Financial Times), Sushil Saraff (President, India-Thai Chamber of Commerce), Dr Jaideep Nair (Counsellor, Indian Embassy), Kiatichai Pongpanich (Senior Journalist), Harsh Sethi (MD, Neon Infotech), Pichai Chuensuksawadi (Editor in Chief, Bangkok Post), Swarup Roy (Founder of AseanAffairs & host), Dr Kriengsak Charoenwongsak (Eminent Economist, Former Bangkok Governor candidate), Said Irandoust (President , Asian Institute of Technology), Jay Shankar Mukherjee (MD, 3i Infotech Thailand), Bhupedra Singh (MD, Ranbaxy Thailand), Renuka Narayanan (Director, India Cultural Centre, Bangkok) and Karin Lohitnavy (AseanAffairs PR Partner) at the ‘India Lunch Meet’ hosted by Mr. Swarup Roy, Founder & Chairman of AseanAffairs media at the Rembrandt Hotel, Bangkok, on 26 October 2012.
In the build up to these events, the Ambassador also spoke to a gathering of Editors, senior journalists and businessmen at the ‘India Lunch Meet’ back on October 29. Hosted by Mr. Swarup Roy, Founder and Chairman of AseanAffairs media, guests at the Rangmahal restaurant, Rembrandt Hotel in Bangkok heard about the planned occasions to come. Mr. Wadwa’s main topics were the connectivity between Thailand, Asean and India.
“Enhancing connectivity is the key to bring our relations with ASEAN to a new level altogether,” said the Ambassador. “We look forward to many years of sustained, beneficial interaction between India and ASEAN to mutual benefit”, he added. Thailand has been an active participant in all these initiatives and Embassy of India has worked closely with the concerned Thai authorities on all programs.
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