India eyes trade, connectivity during PM’s Myanmar visit

May 25th, 2012 - 8:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, May 25 (IANS) Manmohan Singh will Sunday become the first Indian prime minister in 25 years to visit Myanmar on a three-day official trip to boost trade and connectivity with the gateway to Southeast Asia.

Manmohan Singh is also expected to underline India’s full support for Myanmar’s democratic transformation that saw long-time political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi enter parliament this month to global cheer.

Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said Friday that the foundation for Manmohan Singh’s visit was laid when Myanmar President Thein Sein visited India last year.

“Myanmar is integral to India’s Look East policy,” Mathai told reporters here.

He said Indian and Myanmar leaders will discuss new initiatives to lay out a roadmap regarding security, connectivity, human resource development and academic exchanges.

India and Myanmar are expected to sign a number of accords including a revised aviation agreement to scale up the number of flights. India might announce a fresh line of credit for development projects.

Mathai said the initiative to link Imphal in India with Mandalay in Myanmar by bus had been finalised. Mandalay is some 600 km from the Indian border town of Moreh. Imphal lies another 100 km from there.

Manmohan Singh’s visit will be a signal to India Inc to step up business with and in Myanmar, a country rich in natural resources and home to 54 million people.

A delegation of CEOs of major Indian companies is also going to Myanmar. It will be led by Sunil Bharti Mittal of Bharti Enterprises and Rajya Vardhan Kanoria of Kanoria Chemicals and Industries Ltd.

The India-Myanmar trade comprises pulses, meat products, timber and pharmaceuticals and it is currently pegged at just $1.2 billion. New Delhi is looking at doubling it by 2015.

In comparison, Myanmar’s trade with China, its other giant neighbour, is $4.4 billion.

Manmohan Singh, who will be accompanied by his wife Gursharan Kaur and External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, will fly into Nay Pyi Taw, the new capital.

After meeting President Thein Sein Monday, he will move to Yangon Tuesday where he meet the New Delhi-educated Suu Kyi and interact with members of the Indian community.

The meeting with Suu Kyi is expected to assuage the hurt feelings of pro-democracy forces in Myanmar who have long complained about India’s growing ties with the Myanmar military junta.

Under its “Look East Policy” of the 1990s, India took a pragmatic approach vis-a-vis Myanmar, rejecting repeated American appeals to shun the Myanmar military leaders.

This was particularly important in the light of China’s deepening ties with Myanmar and the Myanmar military’s decision to help track down Indian insurgents on its soil.

Indian officials say they have played a quiet role in persuading the junta to give space for democracy.

The dramatic reforms initiated by Thein Sein since last year has led to a string of world leaders making a beeline for the country that has seen nearly 50 years of military rule.

India, which shares a 1,643 km border with Myanmar, hopes to gain more access to its natural wealth and have better connectivity with 10-nation Asean.

Myanmar is rich in natural resources including oil and gas. Yet it is one of the poorest countries in the region.

Some 30 companies from over 10 countries, including India, are involved in Myanmar’s oil and gas sector.

About 30 percent of neighbouring Thailand’s electricity is generated by natural gas from Myanmar, something India desperately needs for its galloping economy.

(Rahul Dass can be contacted at rahul.d@ians.in)

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