GUWAHATI, Dec 17 – Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi today stressed the need for tapping Assam’s strategic location for transforming it into a vibrant base for foreign and domestic investors, and which can also serve “as the ideal link between rest of India and the contiguous markets of Myanmar, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia and other East and South East Asian countries that constitutes almost half of the world’s population”.
The Chief Minister advocated linking Guwahati’s LGBI Airport with direct flight from ASEAN countries for realizing the potential in terms of bilateral trade, commerce, investment and tourism.
Gogoi said this at the ASEAN-India Trade Conclave jointly organized by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Department of Industries and Commerce, Assam, at the Sarusajai Stadium.
Gogoi asserted that Assam’s proximity to the SAARC countries of Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan would enable foreign investors to take advantage of the expanding opportunities for regional integration through intra-regional trade under SAARC Preferential Trading Agreement (SAPTA).
Gogoi also suggested that ASEAN countries having their consulate offices at Kolkata can consider extension of their visa offices in Guwahati to facilitate greater people-to-people contact as well as trade and commerce.
Dwelling at length on the State’s key sectors, like oil, tea, natural gas, coal, limestone, granite, tea, etc., and its tourist attractions, including natural parks and wildlife sanctuaries, Gogoi said the ASEAN countries could exploit those resources for mutual benefits. He also highlighted sectors, like handloom and handicrafts, fishery, diary, cane and bamboo, horticulture, floriculture, rubber cultivation, medicinal plant, herbs, aromatic plants in which both Assam and the North-east as a whole and the ASEAN countries could mutually benefit.
Gogoi also pointed out the Brahmaputra river system as having immense potential for tourism, transportation and energy sectors.
Union Minister of State for Industries and Commerce Dr D Purandeswari said both the age-old links of India and ASEAN were reflected in art, architecture, culture and language. “In modern times, these links were revitalized with India’s Look East Policy. We are now taking forward the relationship, encompassing strategic, political, trade and investment, energy, climate change, science and technology, and people-to-people engagement, among others,” she said.
The minister said the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership when implemented could be the largest trade bloc in the world, embracing all ASEAN nations as well as six regional economies.
Purandeswari said the bilateral trade following the conclusion of the ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement had led to a substantial increase in trade.
“During the financial year April 2011 to March 2012, bilateral trade has increased to almost $ 80 billion – a growth of 38 per cent over the previous year and exceeding the target of $ 70 billion by a huge margin,” she said, adding that yet “we are still far from realizing our full potential and there is a need to further explore the ways to facilitate trade between the two regions”.
The minister said the North-east with a population of 45 million and a GDP of $59 billion shares a long land border with Myanmar, making it contiguous with ASEAN. “With planned infrastructure projects on both sides of the border, economic cooperation will aid development for both regions,” she said.
Purandeswari said the trilateral highway proposed to come up in near future connecting Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in Thailand would open up transport to Lao PDR, Cambodia and Vietnam. “A thriving land route between India and ASEAN through the North-east region is planned to create new business opportunities alongside. The strengthening of infrastructure for border trade such as the Rhi-Tiddim road and customs points along Myanmar coupled with the Kaladan multimodal transport project to upgrade the Sittwe Port connecting Paletwa in Myanmar’s Chin State to Mizoram under way would boost trade and commerce,” she said.
The minister emphasized infrastructure “as a dominant area of cooperation”.
“Infrastructure should be a dominant area of cooperation going forward as both sides aim to build transport, power and communication facilities. India itself has an infrastructure expenditure target of some $800 billion in the next five years and ASEAN companies can participate in this. Similarly, the Indian companies, too, should actively look for opportunities in investment zones coming up in ASEAN countries,” she added.
Minister for Commerce, Cambodia, Dr Cham Prasidh said the ASEAN-India relationship had received a big boost following the free trade agreement in trade and goods.
“The ASEAN-India relationship over the past two decades has led to peace, progress, prosperity to a new height. It is now up to the business communities from both ASEAN countries and India to explore the vistas of business opportunities and reap the harvest. We have laid the foundation of the legal framework for them to explore the possibilities for trade and commerce,” he said.
Minister of Commerce, Laos PDR, Dr Nam Viyaketh while drawing similarities between the landlocked Laos and India’s North-east, said that by building up of better connectivity this constraint could be overcome.
State Minister for Commerce and Industries Pradyut Bordoloi, CII president Adi Godrej, Minister for Industries and Commerce, Manipur, Govindas Konthoujam, Deputy Secretary General, ASEAN, Nyan Lynn and DG, CII, Chandrajit Banerjee also spoke on the occasion. Also present were Union Minister of State for Tribal Affairs Ranee Narah, Minister of Sports, Assam, Ajit Singh and Parliamentary Secretary, Industries, RP Singh.