Shillong, March 16: Thailand today identified the Northeast as the area on which both it and India should focus to boost trade and investment between the two countries.
“The time is now right for both our countries to focus more specifically on northeastern India. It is significant to Thai investors not only in terms of size but also it’s strategic position,” Nalinee Taveesin, minister attached to the Prime Minister’s office and Thailand trade, said here today.
Taveesin was speaking at the second Integrating BIMSTEC summit organised by the Indian Chamber of Commerce and the Indian external affairs ministry.
The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, or BIMSTEC, groups together Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The seven-country forum aims to achieve its own free trade area by 2017. Taveesin said the region’s proximity to China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Thailand, as well as its rich resources, were indeed a blessing. “With such diversity and opportunity, it needs to be optimised through the development of agriculture, sustainable forestry, effective and safe mining and tapping of energy resources as well as tourism,” she said. She said the opportunity for Indian and Thai investors in the region was immense.
According to her, more and more members of the Thai business community were viewing the region as an important and attractive market. “I think areas like education are already seeing cooperation and I think that it can be improved and increased. Tourism, trade and investments will definitely follow,” she said.
Taveesin, however, said there would be challenges ahead. “No matter how plentiful the resources are and how keen the investors are, the challenges will be even greater. But in our case, we are fortunate that both Indian and Thai governments share the same vision for prosperity through unity. Our governments recognise that our shared history and heritage, particularly the shared ethnicities of the people of the Northeast and Thailand, have already laid a foundation on which a stronger relationship can be built.” At the same time, she stressed the importance of taking Myanmar on board. “Whenever Thailand or India pursue the Look West Policy, both countries have to think about Myanmar and how we can help our common neighbour develop to its full potential,” Taveesin said. She said in this age of globalisation, no country was an island.
As Thailand and the Northeast worked together to grow a healthy and fair trading relationship and their people benefit economically from these investments, she said more socio-economic growth and stability could be brought to the people of Myanmar through projects that could create synergy for all parties. “Such investments will lead our three countries to be a key component in the success of our investment plan,” Taveesin said.
She said logistics like construction of roads was required to cater to the traffic in order to realise the investment goals. “The trilateral highway project will enhance physical connectivity and provide opportunities for Thai construction firms to pursue joint venture projects with Indian partners in transportation system improvement as well as air transport, telecommunication and IT services. This artery going through Myanmar will not only link the Northeast to the Thai market but will also open the way to other Asian countries,” she said.
With the possibilities of trade and tourism with the Asian economic communities coming to force in 2015, she said Thailand, Myanmar and India could use each other’s strength as a leverage.
On the volume of trade between Thailand and India, the trade minister said, over the past 15 years, bilateral trade between India and Thailand had grown substantially. In 2012, she said, the volume of trade between the two countries was around $8.6 billion.
“With this upward trend looking so strong, it is expected that we would be looking at doubling this number by 2014. Thailand ranks as the 36th largest investor in India with an FDI outflow to India of about $95 million. Most of these investments have gone into machinery, car sector, frozen food, livestock and construction,” she said.
India, on the other hand, has so far has invested about $460 million in Thailand in areas like chemicals, plastics, metal products and others.