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Shillong meet pushes for border haats

Shillong, Dec. 5: The two-day policy meet on Economic and Transport Development in Border Areas in Eastern South Asia here has recommended setting up of more border haats and border special economic zones (SEZs) to promote trade with neighbouring countries.

Apart from border haats and SEZs, the meet recommended improvement of transportation services along the international borders, including development of roads, railways and inland waterways.

The meet, attended by representatives from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and India, was organised by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific and the Asian Development Bank, in collaboration with the Meghalaya government.

Delivering the valedictory address, Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma said the state has sought for the establishment of another 22 new border haats along the international border from the Centre.

Meghalaya shares a 443-km boundary with Bangladesh, and already has two border haats — one at Kalaichar in West Garo Hills district and another in Balat in East Khasi Hills district. He said the haats would not only create economic opportunities, but would also cement bonds between the people living along the borders.

“The haats will not only serve the purpose for economic considerations, but beyond,” the chief minister said while referring to the pre-Partition days when people-to-people contact and trade flourished. Referring to the transportation system, he said it requires proper planning for development while stressing on the need to regulate the system.

Sangma said the state government will constitute an apex body to look into the different feasible transportation systems in the state and to also work out their regulations and link them with the economic activities.

At the same time, he said, such meets are also an eye-opener for policymakers, especially when international agreements have been left in cold storage for “political considerations”. He, therefore, said the interest of the nation has to be above all political considerations while referring to the delay in ratifying the Indo-Bangladesh land swap deal.

The meet felt that strengthening transport connectivity, while bringing socio-economic development, could further develop the sub-region as a hub of economic activities because of its strategic geographical location and foster regional economic integration in South Asia.

It further noted that harnessing the potential of regional economic co-operation and integration had assumed a new criticality with the dramatically changed global context on a post-financial crisis world and the compulsions of rebalancing the drivers of growth.

Moreover, the meet felt that poorly developed land transport infrastructure and facilitation at the borders was an important barrier for fuller exploitation of potential of regional economic integration in South Asia.

In view of its strategic location, with closer co-operation towards transport and transit facilitation between the northeastern states and the neighbouring countries, Eastern South Asia could emerge as a hub of South Asia’s trade with ASEAN and East Asia, besides facilitating mutual trade and serve as a pivot of Look East Policy.

Unescap and ADB were invited to prepare feasibility studies on the potential of SEZs in the socio-economic development of Eastern South Asia, including the activities and products covered by them and potential locations and models. The groups were further invited to assist by preparing studies on the tourism potential of the Asian Highway in Eastern South Asia and on identification of competitive products for export development.