ASEAN focus on Imphal-Moreh Road

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IMPHAL, May 4: An international conference on “ASEAN- India Connectivity and Northeastern Region of India” was held at Hotel Classic today. The conference was organized by Research and Information Sustem for Developing Countries (RIS).

The inaugural session of the conference was attended by Ram Muivah, principal secretary ( Works and Transport) as the chief guest with Dr. Prabir De, RIS fellow, So Umekazi from Jakarta, Souvik Banerjee of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Dr Biswajit Dhar, director general of RIS.

The conference dwelled on the progress and challenges of ASEAN –India connectivity projects and to explore the opportunities for India’s northeastern region.

Among the presentations, So Umezaki, senior research fellow of IDE-JETRO, Singapore stated that

Moreh and Tamu has been the main gate for the border trade between India and Myanmar.

The road from Imphal to Pallel which is about 49 kms is largely 2 lanes, flat terrain, and the surface is fairly paved and maintained.  In contrast, the road from Pallel to Moreh (60km) is single-lane and mostly mountainous.  The surface is paved but not maintained, therefore a number of sections between Pallel and Moreh need to be repaired, he said .

On the Myanmar side, a 150 km road from Tamu, Kalewa, to Kalemyo and a 10 km road from Kyigone to Kalemyo were constructed by the Border Road Organization (BRO) of India by 2001, and named as a friendship road.

The road from Imphal, Pallel, to Moreh, and the friendship road from Tamu, Kalewa, to Kalemyo are integral parts of the Trilateral Highway project under the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation.

The bilateral agreement between Myanmar and India limits the number of tradable items for the border trade to 40, and only in terms of barter trade.  Trade imbalance needs to be settled by reverse trade within 6 months, instead of financial settlement, and there’s no “formal” foreign exchange facility in the border area.  Due to these restrictions, official border trade has not been growing, he said.

Further, according to the statistics of Moreh LCS, India’s export to Myanmar was Rs. 2.6 million of cumin seed, and India’s import from Myanmar was Rs. 32 million of betel nuts and Rs 4 million of dry ginger.

Instead, informal border trade has been growing, although it is very difficult to know the exact figures.  Local people living in the border area are allowed to go to Myanmar only by registering name and age, even without showing their passport.  There are markets on both sides of the border, to serve for the customers from the other side of the border.  The market in Myanmar side deals a number of imported Chinese products such as electric appliances, blankets, and plastic products, and Myanmar products such as fruits, candles, and soaps.  And Chinese products, similar to those traded in the border markets, can be found in markets in Imphal or other places.  Putting these pieces of information together, it is natural to consider that Chinese products have been imported through informal border trade to meet the demand in Northeast India.  As referred the total trade at Moreh including informal volume is estimated at Rs. 2,800 million, which is far more than the official trade statistics, Rs. 150 million, indicating a significant amount of informal trade across the border, backed by a strong demand in the market, he mentioned.

He stated that, in order to expand the trade between Myanmar and India across the border, it is important for the both governments to take necessary steps to upgrade existing border trade to normal trade, by lifting or expanding the list of tradable items and by allowing financial settlements including the introduction of letters of credits .However, from the viewpoint of India, there is a fear of possible influx of Chinese products into the domestic market.  Given the potential demands for Chinese products, as implied in the last paragraph, a proper management of the country of origin by Myanmar government would be of crucial importance, to keep the trade flows under control.  Another direction for India and Myanmar might be to consider transit transport agreements involving China and Thailand.

“However, with a proper policy environment and moderate improvement of road infrastructure,  Moreh/Tamu border can become an important gateway connecting India to Myanmar, and further to China and Thailand”, he stated.

The conference was attended by De Tin Htoo Naing, Professor of Yangon Institute of Economics and Professor Amar Yumnam, Dean of School of Social Sciences, Manipur University.

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