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Sushma set to ‘Act East’, not simply ‘look’

Sushma

Hanoi, Aug. 26: Asean think tanks and India today discussed ways to boost two-way trade and how Delhi could play a greater economic role in Southeast Asia, a region dominated by exports from China and Japan.

At a separate meeting of 15 Indian heads of mission in the region with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, many envoys said the 10 Asean countries wanted improved connectivity with India to facilitate trade and people-to-people contact.

The minister told the envoys that India needed to change its approach from “Look East” to “Act East”.

India’s engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is at the heart of its “Look East” policy. At the Asean-India Third Round Table of Think Tanks, secretary (east) Anil Wadhwa said the volume of two-way trade between Asean countries and India had steadily increased since the 2009 Free Trade Agreement in Goods.

The volume of India-Asean trade for 2013-14 was $74 billion, of which India’s share of exports was $33 billion. Delhi hopes to increase the two-way trade volume to $100 billion by 2015 and to $200 billion by 2020.

The China-Asean trade volume stands at $400 billion while the Japan-Asean trade volume was over $150 billion in 2012.

India’s connectivity with Asean countries has developed in recent years. At present, India is working with Myanmar and Thailand to put in place a road link from Moreh in Manipur to Mandalay in Myanmar. This road will be extended to Thailand.

Delhi has also proposed a transit transport agreement with Myanmar and Thailand. Experts from most Asean countries called for extending this corridor to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

India is holding a meeting with the Asean Connectivity Coordinating Committee (ACCC), which has representatives from the 10 countries, to take stock of the projects under way. The next meeting of the ACCC will be held at Myanmar capital Nay Pyi Taw next month. Wadhwa stressed on setting up of special economic zones along with connectivity corridors.

India is working on the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project, which will connect Calcutta port with Sittwe port in Myanmar by sea, reducing the distance by over 1,300km. It will facilitate passage of goods currently transported through the narrow Siliguri corridor.

India also acknowledges the importance of the proposed Mecong-India Economic Corridor plan comprising land and sea infrastructure projects. Wadhwa said Delhi was keen on tourism and business links among Tier-II and Tier-III Indian cities and Asean destinations.

At the meeting of the heads of missions, many envoys told Sushma these countries wanted a greater Indian role in improving the security architecture in view of their territorial disputes with China.