Govt looking at extending India-Myanmar-Thailand highway

Nayanima Basu New Delhi | Updated on January 17, 2018

(File picture) Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Thailand PrimeMinister General Prayut Chan-O-Cha during the latter's visit in June.Both leaders had agreed to speed up the highway project.

Extension to Vietnam, Cambodia will give access to larger Asean market

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is planning to extend the proposed India-Myanmar-Thailand highway to the CLMV (Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam) countries in the second phase, despite the first phase being stuck on procedural issues.

The India-Myanmar-Thailand (IMT) trilateral highway is facing inordinate delays, and has already missed a couple of deadlines. According to the MEA, the IMT may now become operational by 2018-19.

However, a lot of work needs to be done. Firstly, on the Indian side there are as many as 69 bridges that are in a dilapidated state, which have to be rebuilt. Although work is on to modernise these bridges, the progress is slow, a top official, involved in the project told BusinessLine.

During the visit of Prime Minister of Thailand General Prayut Chan-o-cha to India in June, both countries agreed to “expedite” the completion of the highway.

Both sides also agreed to speed up the negotiations on the India-Myanmar-Thailand Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA).

However, according to the official, India is not keen on signing the MVA now unless the work on the highway progresses.

Meanwhile, the new government in Myanmar is now creating hurdles to the project.

It has demanded a renegotiation of the MVA and its applicability on the trilateral highway as the agreement was negotiated under the previous military government.

“The implementation of the trilateral highway got delayed for reasons that are beyond India’s control. It should be operationalised by 2018. Thereafter, it can be extended to the CLMV countries. This will then give India direct access to the South-East and East Asian markets,” said Prabir De, professor and coordinator (Asean-India Centre), Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS).

Meanwhile, the Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh has said the government is planning to extend it to the CLMV countries.

“Even as we work assiduously to enhance our physical connectivity and explore the extension of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway into Lao PDR, Cambodia and Vietnam, I urge Thailand and Myanmar to join hands and find creative solutions for the early conclusion of the Motor Vehicles Agreement and I would also like to invite ASEAN countries to participate in the Sittwe Economic Zone,” Singh said at the 14th ASEAN-India Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Vientiane on July 25.

The trilateral highway is crucial for the success of the Modi government’s ‘Look East’ policy.

Market access

India is keen on extending the highway as it will give access to Vietnam which is a member of the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement with the US. “So Indian exporters are now keen to gain access in that market as sending goods over roads will be much easier than through the waterways,” the official said.

The idea is to connect the trilateral highway with a free trade zone that will be developed at the Sittwe Port in Myanmar. The distance from the Sittwe economic zone to the trilateral highway is about 100-120 km.

“Trade is expected to increase many folds once the Trilateral Highway starts running in the next three years and it will open up the larger ASEAN market to our nations,” said Harshavardhan Neotia, President, FICCI.

Published on July 27, 2016

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