On strengthening ties between India and Myanmar
How are bilateral trade relations between India and Myanmar being broadened?
SARAUBH KUMAR: Myanmar benefits from being the land bridge between South-east Asia and India, as well as from its strategic position between India and China. Due to this, Myanmar features quite prominently within two of India’s foreign policy initiatives – the Act East Policy and the Neighbourhood First policy – and is the only country where both these initiatives converge. These schemes work to increase regional interaction and trade links.
For the benefit of both countries, in August 2018 we opened two land borders between India and Myanmar at the Tamu-Moreh and the Rihkhawdar-Zowkhawtar checkpoints. The road infrastructure and checkpoint systems still need some development on both sides of the border, but once these projects are completed we should see good growth in cross-border trade.
We are also involved in marine infrastructure development. The Adani Port will rapidly expand Myanmar’s marine infrastructure. Additionally, in Rakhine State we are involved in the development of the Sittwe Port, which will not only have the ability to import goods to Myanmar, but will also allow for connectivity with the north-east of India. In the long term we envisage a substantial flow of goods along this route, although much of the road infrastructure has yet to be completed.
Trade between India and Myanmar stands at roughly $2bn per year, dominated mostly by agriculture and agro-industry, although I would be very happy to see diversification into other sectors. In order to grow our bilateral trade, proper infrastructure needs to be developed, and the Indian private sector needs to be motivated to invest in Myanmar. Alongside initiatives from the Indian government, there are also many opportunities for the private sector to invest in Myanmar. While some companies are already involved, I want to see this grow even further.
In what ways do you see the trade relationship evolving between these two countries?
SUNIL SETH: Trade between India and Myanmar is currently measured at $2bn annually, and one of the key objectives of the recently formed India Myanmar Chamber of Commerce is to help increase trade to $5bn over the next three to four years. Myanmar’s export of pulses is a very important part of bilateral trade, valued at nearly $800m per year. However, in recent years India has been working to increase its domestic pulses production and become self-reliant by reducing its imports. Myanmar therefore has to look at diversifying its product mix and also exporting to other countries in order to maintain and grow its agriculture export basket.
There exists potential for Myanmar to claim a competitive advantage in the production of sesame, soya, groundnut and sunflower oil. In addition, rice is underperforming as an export commodity due to inefficient farming practices and logistics services. This is negatively impacting quality and price, and stunting the growth of a country that was once a global giant in rice exports.
To improve the quality and throughput of rice exports to the international market, Myanmar also needs to focus on upgrading the technology and productivity of its rice mills. Vital to this overall opportunity, however, is the question of capacity at Myanmar’s ports. An increase in the capability and sophistication of the export infrastructure would likely facilitate product diversification.
Through which measures is India helping Myanmar develop its capacity for governing?
KUMAR: India is implementing the India Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme, which supports many other countries. The programme has developed substantially on an international scale since being introduced shortly after India became independent. There are roughly 250 civil servants from various ministries, mostly from the senior management level, who travel to India to enhance their skills through ITEC’s offerings.
At the same time we have officials from ITEC who visit Myanmar to train officials there. We are involved in a range of projects in Myanmar, particularly in rural communities and border areas between India and Myanmar. Projects usually focus on education, medical clinics, road infrastructure and bridges.