Kuala Lumpur/New Delhi: India is keen to have freighter services with Asean member countries after a fortnightly freighter service with Myanmar has proven to be commercially feasible, said a top official on Friday.
Anil Wadhwa, secretary (east) in the ministry of external affairs, addressing the Fourth ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks (AINTT) in Kuala Lumpur, said that work on the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport project is progressing apace.
“We have just concluded negotiations on a Trilateral Motor Vehicle Agreement, and are also negotiating a Maritime Transport Cooperation Agreement with ASEAN in order to strengthen maritime connectivity. Our experiment of a direct fortnightly freighter with Myanmar has proven to be commercially feasible and we are open to replicating this experiment with other ASEAN Member States,” he said.
He said that in order to boost trade and investment, connectivity and access to infrastructure finance are needed and connectivity is receiving the highest priority on the ASEAN-India cooperation agenda.
“We are working to create a Special Facility for project financing and quick implementation of connectivity projects with ASEAN, whereby industry could receive government support for investments in connectivity projects with the ASEAN region,” Wadhwa added.
He said the think tank community could conduct feasibility studies to ascertain the viability of projects before venturing into a coastal shipping network linking India with ASEAN member states. “Such studies could be undertaken in a phased manner and we could prioritise countries and ports to look at on the basis of desktop studies based on current trade volume, cargo profile and future potential.”
He said more in-depth research on trade, tourism and business spin-offs were needed that more liberalised air services arrangements covering passenger, cargo and technical services between India and ASEAN countries would entail for both sides.
Referring to the close cultural and historical ties between the two sides, Wadhwa said: “Hundreds of thousands of Indians have emigrated to South East Asia in the last 200 years. Their descendants today constitute a vibrant community of Indian origin people, contributing actively to their respective countries of adoption. Malaysia alone has nearly 2 million persons of Indian origin, constituting the second largest Indian diaspora abroad.”
He said the ASEAN-India Plan of Action for 2016-2021 will aim to strengthen the socio-cultural pillar of ASEAN-India engagement.
Among other initiatives for integration, he said, were the Mekong Ganga Cooperation, aimed at reviving cooperation between the peoples of the two river basins in the fields of tourism, education, culture and promoting people-to-people contacts, as well as the re-establishment of the Nalanda University at Rajgir as a world-renowned knowledge hub.
The initiatives celebrate and lend a contemporary dimension to the historical linkages that bind India and Southeast Asia, he said.