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​Keynote Address by Secretary (East) at International Conference on Cross-border Connectivity in New Delhi

May 12, 2014

Amb. Shyam Saran, Chairman RIS and ASEAN-India Centre
ASEAN Heads of Missions
Representatives from ASEAN countries, United States, Japan, World Bank, ADB, GoI Ministries and the North Eastern Council
Ladies & Gentlemen

  1. In keeping with the high priority that we attach to enhancing connectivity between ASEAN and India and the emphasis on regional connectivity under the East Asia Summit, we have attempted today to bring together stakeholders and representatives from ASEAN countries, Japan, the US, International Financial Institutions and India for a brainstorming on some of the primary issues in the agenda of cross-border connectivity. During the last India-Japan-US Trilateral Meeting in November 2013 also, it had been agreed that India should host a brainstorming Workshop on ASEAN-India Connectivity to include all stakeholders as also International Financial Institutions. Japan, in particular, has evinced interest in participating in ASEAN-India connectivity projects and indicated their willingenss to provide financial support, as feasible, for these.
  2. As India's relationship with ASEAN has intensified, from a sectoral partnership in 1992 to dialogue partnership in 1996, Summit level engagement since 2002 and a strategic partnership since 2012, our engagement on enhancing connectivity in all its dimensions – geographic, institutional and people-to-people has also seen natural progression.
  3. Key instruments in support of connectivity are now in place such as the ASEAN-India FTA on Trade and Goods signed in 2009. The FTA on Services and Investments will be ready for signature later this year, when the ASEAN and Indian Economic Ministers meet. Both India and Japan have a formal dialogue with the ASEAN Connectivity Coordinating Committee. Under the East Asia Summit, negotiations are progressing towards the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. Trade volumes between ASEAN and India, ASEAN and Japan, Japan and India and India and the US have been seeing incremental increase. All this will have a bearing on the Master Plan for ASEAN Connectivity and the MPAC Plus framework and these, in turn, will help to strengthen the ASEAN Community, to be declared in 2015. As I said in the beginning, the Declaration of the 6th EAS on ASEAN Connectivity also calls for support to relevant cooperation between ASEAN and its EAS partners towards MPAC Plus Connectivity.
  4. Connectivity related discussions have been a part of the Delhi Dialogue, which is now into its 6th year, and in the Roundtables of the ASEAN-India Network of Think Tanks, which is to be held in Hanoi in August this year. Last year, ASEAN made a good beginning in bringing together their Dialgoue Partners on the connectivity agenda in Thailand and held a very useful Symposium, in collaboration with JICA, in Bangkok on November 27, 2013.
  5. The road infrastructure for ASEAN-India connectivity is making good progress between India, Myanmar and Thailand. The completion of the Trilateral Highway is an immediate priority, as is the acceleration of the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project. In addition to the initial commitment of 160 kms on the Tamu-Kalewa-Kalemiyo (TKK) road, India is committed to another 120 kms on the Kalewa-Yargyi sector and the upgradation of 71 bridges on the TKK section of the Trilateral Highway. The feasibility study for the Kalewa-Yargyi sector is currently underway. We are looking at an Imphal-Mandalay Bus Service and technical discussions are to begin. We also have an MoU with Myanmar for a project on the Rhi Tiddim Road. The Kaladan Multimodal Project in Myanmar includes road and inland waterway links to Sittwe port, as also the potential for collaboration in developing an industrial zone or SEZ in Sittwe.
  6. We are already seeking to strengthen the rail network in the North East. Planning Commission representative will, I am sure, give you a more detailed idea about this. ADB and World Bank funding would be welcome in this. I would also urge that our concepts on border connectivity infrastructure facilitation be more along the lines of Integrated Customs Stations to incorporate eventual rail links rather than remain limited to Road Customs Stations.
  7. I would, therefore, urge a more comprehensive look at the emerging scenario of cross-border connectivity projects in Session I today, to include not just road projects but also the prospects for rail and sea connectivity to some extent. ERIA has already done a study projecting the potential for the sea-link between Dawei and Chennai. Maritime connectivity can be strengthened further between India, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam and production chains established from the Mekong region to the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and the Mumbai-Bangaluru-Chennai Industrial Corridor, in addition to linking up with ports on the eastern seaboard of India such as Ennore, Vizag, Sagar etc. Backend linkages through coastal shipping networks and riverine navigation will be important in this context so as to generate sustainable volumes of trade related traffic. We have already held a brainstorming session on maritime connectivity under the aegis of the ASEAN India Centre and we are in the process of finalizing the recommendations which our Ministry of Shipping would take forward in their discussions with the ASEAN countries for a Joint Working Group on Maritime Connectivity. This JWG will, inter alia, seek to establish a maritime link between India, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam. We have also proposed an Open Sky Policy on Cargo on a quid pro quo basis to the ASEAN. This would help to increase trade, especially in perishable commodities.
  8. ASEAN and India are in preliminary discussions about possible route alignments for the extension of the Trilateral Highway to Cambodia, Viet Nam and Lao PDR. We have requested the ASEAN countries for the geographic route alignment, which could possibly be considered, and also for information on the economic activities which could be encouraged to make these extensions bankable, of interest to the private sectors in each of our countries and oriented to our common agenda of growth and prosperity.
  9. In our dialogue with the ACCC, in fact, we have specifically suggested that the ASEAN countries look at identifying potential SEZs and economic nodes to integrate the infrastructure and the economic dimension of connectivity projects, especially as this would contribute to their financial viability and long term sustainability. We already have some possibilities for collaboration in Myanmar, in the Dawei port and its related SEZ and the Kyaukphyu SEZ. Myanmar, Thailand, India, Japan and the US could find common ground for collaboration in these two ports.
  10. Despite this intensive engagement and dialogue, however, we still need answers to the critical aspects of finding financing vehicles for this ambitious agenda of geographic connectivity between ASEAN and India. The brainstorming started in Bangkok last year needs to continue towards specific suggestions and actionable options. I hope that the panelists in Session 3 will discuss some specific options that could be put before the ASEAN Governments as also the Governments in India, Japan and the US to further this agenda. I suggest the discussions today be taken back to the Headquarter of World Bank, ADB, JICA, ILFS, USTDA and Srei Infrastructure Finance Ltd to revert with specific vehicles for financing connectivity projects and investment opportunities in ASEAN and India. Needless to say, this particular aspect can only progress in the direction supported by the ASEAN countries themselves, as principal partners in ASEAN-India connectivity.
  11. Similarly, all efforts at ASEAN-India connectivity will be incomplete if the backend linkages into India are not strengthened. In recognition of this, Ministry of External Affairs now has a separate division to deal with Border Connectivity issues. I very much hope that Session 2 would be able to prioritize the work that needs to be done at the border posts in India and the linkages into the North East of India and further inwards. We also need attention to the backend linkages required to support the agenda to increase maritime and air connectivity between ASEAN and India. These issues can be followed up by the new Division in MEA on Border Connectivity. Specific steps to support backend linkages will allow us to conceive of geographic connectivity projects not merely as road or rail or sea infrastructure issues but as projects that can be bankable, of interest to Industry and can help transform these geographic corridors of connectivity into corridors for economic cooperation, growth and prosperity in the region. I would urge that the Planning Commission of India and NEC together with the Land Ports Authority of India suggest concepts for SEZs and economic nodes that can be developed throughout India’s North East as part of the strong backend linkages network required for ASEAN India connectivity. Japan is already partnering in some of the important connectivity infrastructure projects in India, including the North East. We should be able to define further specific steps for increasing this collaboration with our partners, including those in this room.
  12. We have identified another important dimension in ASEAN-India connectivity. At the 11th ASEAN-India Summit last year in Brunei Darussalam, Prime Minister of India suggested that ASEAN and India finalize an ASEAN-India Transit Transport Agreement. The ASEAN-India Centre has done some valuable brainstorming on this, together with MEA and the different Ministries and stakeholders on the Indian side and we have recently shared our initial thoughts with the ASEAN countries on taking these discussions further.
  13. I would, therefore, like to commend the ASEAN-India Centre for putting this International Conference together under the guidance of Amb. Shyam Saran. I look forward to the discussions, to an interactive session on how we could expedite the realization of the official agenda on connectivity both in the ASEAN-India context and in keeping with the Declararation of the 6th East Asia Summit on ASEAN Connectivity, and further develop the MPAC and the MPAC Plus dimensions.
Thank you.



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