ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Cross-border route to link India, Myanmar, Thailand
India, Thailand and Myanmar are negotiating a breakthrough 1,400-kilometre highway that will link India with Southeast Asia by land for the first time in decades.
In an interview with The Nation, Indian Ambassador Bhagwant Singh Bishnoi said 73 bridges in Myanmar built during World War II more than seven decades ago are being renovated with funding from the Indian government to allow vehicles to cross the highway safely.
When the repair work is completed in 18 months, the highway could be opened to traffic from all three countries.
The planned highway, which starts in the eastern region of India from Moreh city to Myanmar's Tamu city, has received a positive response from Myanmar's new government following the recent general election.
At this stage, negotiations are underway to conclude a tri-nation motor vehicle agreement for the use of the 1,400km road that will reach Thailand at Tak's Mae Sot district.
This will lead to land transport connectivity between South Asia and Southeast Asia and increased trade and investment among all partner countries with cargo transportation being the first priority.
However, there are still some security challenges for a section inside Myanmar, which will have to be resolved with the authorities.
The tri-nation highway exemplifies India's "Act East" policy, under which the Asian giant aims to boost its economic and other relations neighbouring countries in the East.
Myanmar's Dawei deep-sea port and industrial estate project near the Thai border is also expected to help further integrate eastern India with Asean.
The planned port can be linked up with India's Chennai port as well as Thailand's Laem Chabang Port on the other side of the ocean.
Under the "Act East" policy, India is also preparing to negotiate a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership ( RCEP ) which includes the 10-country Asean grouping on top of the current India-Asean free-trade agreement ( FTA ).
Some Asean countries such as Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia have become members of the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership ( TPP ) FTA, so Asean is upgrading its FTAs with major trading partners such as India and China to formulate RCEP agreements, which are more advanced.
India views Asean as a central component of its "Act East" policy. Myanmar shares a border with India, while Thailand is a maritime neighbour with long-standing cultural and other ties, so both nations are India's gateway to Asean.
Thai-Indian trade amounted to US$8 billion ( Bt285.5 billion ) last year, while 1 million Indian tourists visited Thailand last year. There were also about 300 Indian weddings held here.
Among major Thai investors in India are CP Group, Delta Electronics, Ital-Thai and Pruksa Real Estate, while the major Indian firms operating in Thailand are Tata Group, Aditya Birla and Indorama.
India continues to rack up high economic growth of 7 per cent per year amid the global slowdown, he added.
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