New Delhi, Jan 31: As India seeks to strengthen its bonds with ASEAN, including through free trade agreements, it is necessary to improve maritime linkages with the booming Southeast Asian region as well as boost India’s own maritime sector to make the trade ties yield expected results, speakers at a seminar here Friday said.
Speakers at a national seminar on ASEAN-India Maritime Transport Cooperation called for bottlenecks in maritime trade to be removed and building stronger economic corridors and value chains.
Anil Wadhwa, secretary (East) in the ministry of external affairs, said that with the share of merchandise trade with the 10-member ASEAN growing steadily “such trans-shipment will need to happen through cargo ships, and requires improvement in port and logistics infrastructure and direct shipping lines”.
“These routes need to be identified, given economic feasibility and their policy related lacunae will need to be addressed.”
He said that with ASEAN countries seeking to make the Dawei Sea Port in Myanmar a feasible project, India should “look at ways of becoming part of this development”.
Wadhwa said an important area to be focused was “increasing the sustainability of maritime transportation through creating an economically vibrant catchment area, i.e. looking to integrate SEZs, availability of energy, ICT etc. on the one hand and, on the other, creating clusters of economic activity to strengthen, for instance, the regional food basket, local industry, capacity development and employment, and promote tourism and environmental management”.
“In my view, the construct for maritime connectivity will sustain easier if it adopts an inclusive, symbiotic approach with these priority issues,” he said.
Prabir De, senior fellow at Research and Information System (RIS), said China has a very strong maritime presence with its own shipping companies and sea ports which were an advantage in its trade with other countries, especially the ASEAN.
“Sea services never picked up in IndiaÂ… we need more feeder operators, more feeder services” for the maritime sector to pick up, he said.
He suggested short sea shipping routes – like between Kolkata and Yangon – as a way to build capacity.
T.S. Vishwanath, of the APJ-SLG Law Offices, a specialized commercial practice law firm, said unless the freight corridors in India are improved as well as the low capacity at Indian ports boosted among other things, the expected surge in imports from trade pacts with ASEAN would not be able to be realized.
Former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, who is chairperson of RIS and member of the National Security Advisory Board, called for better understanding of the challenges to realizing improved maritime connectivity with the Association of South East Asian Nations.
India and ASEAN have set a $100 billion bilateral trade target by 2015.