North East in BCIM-EC: Challenges and Prospects
Trade is an important aspect of India-Myanmar relations. India inked a trade agreement with Myanmar in 1994. Currently, border trade is carried through the designated custom ports at Moreh and Tamu (in Myanmar) and Champai (in Mizoram) and Rhi (in Myanmar). Trade links between North East and Myanmar is also characterised by high informal trade. There is a vast potential of trade and commerce between the two countries in the following areas: bamboo and wood products, pharmaceuticals, rubber products, food items, refined petroleum products, other non-metallic mineral products, cement, and textile and textile items. Besides, there are scopes for cooperation in the services sectors like health, tourism, education, and transport and communication. There are huge prospects for tourism in the BCIM region. Ecotourism will grow once the physical connectivity is established since the region is having rich bio-diversity and beautiful landscapes especially in Myanmar and Yunan province of China.
Schemes envisaged under the BCIM-EC would further enhance cross-border movement of goods, services and people. The North Eastern states have shown keen interest in the BCIM initiative. A few workshops and conclaves have already been organised to explore ways for boosting economic cooperation between North East and BCIM countries. In the second week of July, Tripura hosted a conclave attended by foreign delegates, diplomats and business leaders to discuss North East’s importance in the LEP and the progress of BCIM. While participating in the deliberations, former Indian Ambassador to Myanmar, Alok Sen, observed, “Having so many very important countries as your neighbour is a matter of opportunity for the North East. Because North East has certain innate weaknesses, like the infrastructure and the kind of economic base that it has currently. So to break out of this, and to attain prosperity I think further integration, economic integration with countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and at some point China. This is going to be very important”.
A Stakeholders’ Consultative Workshop on “The Role of BCIM-EC in Regional Integration: Perspectives from North East India” was jointly organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in cooperation with North Eastern Council (NEC), Institute of Chinese Studies and Observer Research Foundation on July 18 in Guwahati. While participating in the discussion, M P Bezbaruah, a member of NEC, stated that there is a need to study the export potential of North East and match that with the demand conditions in markets like Bangladesh, Myanmar and China. He highlighted the need to create enabling conditions in North East for such exports to take place. He underscored the necessity of initiating sustainable projects in the region in collaboration with other member countries of the BCIM. He further stressed on local capacity building. In his opinion, projects are to be prioritised and implemented.
Addressing the participants, Rajeet Mitter, former Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh and Leader of BCIM-EC Joint Study Group, noted that the BCIM’S footprint traverses areas of relative underdevelopment, particularly the landlocked southwestern part of China and India’s North East—a distinct sub-region whose backwardness could be addressed not merely through national development programmes but through trans-national connectivity, economic integration and cross-border cooperation. He pointed out that the BCIM would be India’s first effort to create a transnational economic corridor and the eastern and North Eastern parts of India will be at the heart of this process.