Interview: Sushma Swaraj

What priorities were identified by the India-Myanmar Joint Consultative Commission (JCC)?

SUSHMA SWARAJ: The India-Myanmar JCC, co-chaired by the two countries’ foreign ministers, is intended to promote the development of relations in promising areas for cooperation, such as security and defence, trade and investment, development partnership activities, and global and multilateral issues. As two neighbouring developing countries, overall development of the region and a peaceful and stable neighbourhood is a priority for us. India’s development commitment to Myanmar is nearly $2bn, including directly executed projects and soft loans covering both connectivity and capacity-building projects spanning areas like IT, health, industrial training, language learning programmes, management and parliamentary procedures.

In what ways will India’s “Act East” policy promote the economic development of Myanmar?

SWARAJ: India’s “Act East” initiative has both a policy and an action dimension. At the policy level, it captures the importance that India attaches to the economies of the East in our foreign policy. At the action level, it signals a more active economic engagement and speedy implementation of programmes and policies. The most obvious way that the “Act East” policy will promote economic development in Myanmar is by leveraging its location between the two large and fast-growing economies of China and India, and closer integration of India with the ASEAN economies of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, through the land route. This would translate into greater bilateral trade, transit benefits, investments, and connectivity and development projects necessary to support these.

How would you assess the progress of the India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) trilateral highway?

SWARAJ: A lot of progress has been made on the IMT trilateral highway. The feasibility reports for the construction of 69 bridges on the Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa section have already been completed. However, there has been some impact on progress due to the short working season in Myanmar. Also, the Kalewa-Yargi road that has been entrusted to India is particularly challenging, but I expect construction of this road to begin shortly. The highway is important as it will act as a catalyst for trade between India and ASEAN. By connecting India with Thailand and, through Thailand, to the Greater Mekong region the other ASEAN countries, it will provide us connectivity to the markets of South-east Asia, especially through our north-eastern states. Since the highway will also intersect with various other east-west and north-south corridors under the ASEAN Master Plan for Connectivity, our access to the ASEAN market will be considerably enhanced by the IMT.

What sectors of Myanmar’s economy are Indian investors most interested in? How can bilateral investment be encouraged on a greater scale?

SWARAJ: Attracted by the government’s political and economic reforms and Myanmar’s rapid evolution in the recent times, Indian investors have shown interest in the oil and gas sector; power generation and transmission; infrastructure; wood, paper and small industries; mining, banking and insurance; and capacity development. Indian investment in Myanmar has grown from $250m in the 2013 to $727m in 2015. The qualitative change in our bilateral political, economic and commercial relations provides a good foundation for enhancing bilateral investment.

We are working to remove major roadblocks to cooperation such as the lack of adequate information about each others’ economies and as potential investment partners. We are also working to address problems in the areas of banking and air connectivity, which act as obstacles to free trade and movement.