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Call to boost NE-SE Asia links

Assam Tribune

Call to boost NE-SE Asia links

By Kalyan Barodah

5 May 2013

GREATER NOIDA, The long forgotten traditional links including the historic Stilwell Road connecting the North-east and the neighbouring countries have emerged as critical to connecting South Asia and Southeast Asia.

Better connectivity between South Asia and Southeast Asia – through hardware and associated software – can unlock the full benefits of closer economic ties between the two sub-regions and help rebalance Asian growth toward domestic and regional markets, delegates at the 46th Annual Meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) heard today.

“Connecting South Asia and Southeast Asia,” a study interim report by the ADB and ADB Institute (ADBI), shows south and Southeast Asian economies have grown rapidly during an era of fragile world economic growth beset by risks. However, integration of trade and investment between the two sub-regions, while having made progress, has been relatively limited, hindered by various bottlenecks in trade infrastructure, residual trade barriers and insufficient regional cooperation.

‘The report released on the concluding day of the 46th Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors of ADB here has summarised that critical gaps in land transportation connectivity between South and Southeast Asia exist mainly in Myanmar, the only land bridge between these sub-regions.

The report quotes the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), which has concluded that enhancing connectivity between Myanmar and North-east India was critical to connecting the two regions.

The lack of proper infrastructure linking Moreh-Tamu route was identified as the impediments to greater Cross-Sub-regional Integration. This is the main route for border trade between India and Myanmar and has overlaps with AH1 and AH2. The section from Palel to Moreh (60 km) is single-lane and mostly mountainous. The surface is paved but significant sections between Palel and Moreh are in disrepair.

About Zolkawtar-Rhee route, the report said that this route can be positioned as the shortest land route connecting Myanmar and Kolkata through North-east India and Bangladesh if the section from Aizawl to Agartala is improved and transit trade through Bangladesh is realized.

The Nampong-Pangsu route, known as Stilwell Road starting from Ledo in India’s Assam state, weaves through upper Myanmar to end in China’s Yunnan province. Currently, the border is not yet opened for official border trade.

These projects also tie in with those identified in the BIMSTEC Transport Infrastructure and Logistics Study (BTILS), which forms the core of transport planning in the BIMSTEC area and was endorsed by the BIMSTEC ministers in 2009.

For the road sector, gaps are usually poor quality roads which cannot accommodate reliable all weather travel. The main cross-sub regional highway links are the Asian Highway 1 and 2 connecting India and Bangladesh with Myanmar and the rest of Southeast Asia, and three significant gaps have been identified in crossings to Myanmar.

Issues and Impediments to Greater Cross-Sub-regional Integration links have been identified for India–Myanmar and Myanmar–Thailand. The Bangkok–Phnom Penh–Ho Chi Minh City–Hanoi–Kunming– Nanjing route has the greatest potential to foster South–Southeast Asia connectivity, although this would require 263 km of links across Myanmar and Thailand.

The report has identified major gaps and bottlenecks in land (road and railway) and sea transport infrastructure and a list of priority investment projects. Major land infrastructure gaps have been identified in links between India and Myanmar, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and Myanmar and Thailand.

The report refers to the ongoing India–Myanmar–Thailand Trilateral Highway (IMTTH) Project that was conceptualized in 2002 to provide a 1,360 km road linking North- east India and Southeast Asia. The road will connect Moreh on the Indian side in Manipur with Mae Sot town in Thailand, passing through Baganin central Myanmar. Major stretches of road already exist but dilapidated sections have to be improved and interconnected.

Rail network connectivity between the two regions is generally poor. In particular, Myanmar has no cross-border rail links. Moreover, the incompatibility of gauges (track widths) in India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Myanmar means that transhipment will be required even after through rail links are developed. This increases costs, lowers service levels and makes rail less competitive.