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India and ASEAN trade ties grew 22% annually during 2005-2011 and more than 37% in 2011-12. It is set for a growth to USD 300 billion by 2025. It has a promising trend to grow at a much faster pace in years to come with India's Look East Policy. The signing of ASEAN–India Trade in goods agreement involve over 1.8 billion people with a combined GDP of over USD 3 trillion creating the world's largest FTA ( Free Trade Agreement).
The FTA and Cooperation among the ASEAN members signify a great opportunity in the field of culture, trade and commerce with India, that too through land transport along the border of approximately 1,645 km that India shares with Myanmar. The most popular and the busiest border towns are Moreh (Manipur) and Tamu (Myanmar in Sagaing Region).The other two yet to be developed and not fully operational border points are Zokathar in Mizoram (that shares approximately 515 km border with Myanmar) and the Pangsu Pass (Lido) in Arunachal Pradesh ( that shares approximately 525 km border with Myanmar).
The Government of India's initiative to develop Border Haats (markets) along the three border points with Myanmar of which Moreh (operational on a daily basis) and Pangsu Pass through Lido (operational on a weekly basis) is a big step forward for people to people interaction and encourage culture exchange programs. The border Haats in this border town are most active with people from either side crossing over with issued permits from the concerned authorities for their daily trading and shopping within a time limit from dawn to dusk. The Border Haats will go a long way in years to come in promoting trade and commerce with Myanmar and the rest of ASEAN. The other two borders, Pangsau Pass in Arunachal and Zokathar in Mizoram are not as active as the Moreh border but have equally huge potential in border trade. The Arunachal Government has taken various steps to promote border trade. One such annual event is the Pangsau Pass Winter Festival held every year during the month of January. The border is situated in Nampong village.
The Mizoram–Myanmar border trade through the land custom station started formally in March 2005. Zokhawthar, in eastern Mizoram has an international border of 510 km with Myanmar. The Border Haats are being set up along the border to promote local products of both the countries. A lot more need to be done in this border too to promote trade like infrastructure, connectivity from the capital city, Aizawl. Initially, border trade was allowed from this border but was discontinued in November 2015 to give way to normal imports and exports.
Here are some of the core issues that need to be addressed to boost trade, investment and employment in these areas.
Officially only Moreh in Manipur and Zorinpui in Mizoram (287 km from the Sittwe Port in Myanmar) have been recognized with LCS (Land Custom Station) along the Indo-Myanmar border. A lot more can be done if we have more LCS along the Pangsau Pass in Arunachal and in Mon district in Nagaland.
Border Haats (markets) can be set up in all the border points along the Indo – Myanmar border for close border trade on either side of the border. Currently, only a few functional Haats are operational along the Indo-Bangladesh border in Meghalaya. A better and upgraded model needs to be developed along the Indo-Myanmar border to boost trade.
For trade promotion in any form, state of the art warehousing facility along the border areas is a must, exclusively for perishable products. In most cases the border areas are far off from the nearest towns and cities.
Our region is blessed with beautiful hills, flora and fauna. When things return to a new normal, we need to promote tourism and club tour packages with our state festivals like the Sangai festival in Manipur, the Hornbill festival in Nagaland, the Tawang festival in Arunachal Pradesh and the Bihu festival in Assam along with the Tai – Ahom villages in Upper Assam etc.
The 2019 ASEAN Community Leadership and Partnership Forum, held in conjunction with the 34th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok which was organised by Kingsley Strategic Institute (KSI), ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN – BAC), ASEAN Studies Centre, Nation building Institute and the Asia Centre in June, 2019 at Park Hyatt, Bangkok, which I attended, was as eye opening experience and a very informative meet.
Some of the areas the forum focused on were cyber security, trade facilitation for 24 x 7, the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to empower public health care system and building a strong digital infrastructure to empower digital trade connectivity within ASEAN. There were separate focused sessions on empowering ASEAN 4.0, single window clearance, non tariff barriers (NTB), Intra ASEAN Trade (2025). With an eye on the future, the forum also had sessions to discuss ASEAN's next generation – reimagining ASEAN and fuelling Innovation.
The post-pandemic Trade and Commerce model of International Trade will definitely change with the gig economy mode of businesses taking centre stage. However, the basics for goods and services will remain the same across all international borders with ASEAN, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and China.
The writer is the founder Director of Northeast India – ASEAN Chamber of Commerce and Advisor to the Garo hills Border Trade and Chamber of Commerce, Tura, Meghalaya and Border Trade and Chamber of Commerce, Moreh Town, Manipur.