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India looks to boost trade with South-east Asia using river network

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NEW DELHI : India proposes to extend its waterways connectivity project to South-east Asia right up to Thailand, aiming to link regional river routes to develop trade. The planned international waterways network covering a distance of over 5,000 km and crossing eight countries is expected to benefit shippers, logistics players and cargo owners. The trade that can be conducted through the network is estimated at over $50 billion.

According to officials in the ministry of ports, shipping and waterways, the Eastern Waterways Connectivity Transport Grid, as the project is called, will be an extension of the India-Bangladesh protocol route, under which land routes have already been opened up for trade, and river routes are expected to be operational from January.

“India has already built the Sittwe Sea Port of Myanmar. It has now become navigable. Sittwe is connected to Mizoram (through river routes), and this development will benefit both Mizoram and Tripura as it opens the way for global trading,” Union Minister of Ports, Shipping and Waterways Shri Sarbananda Sonowal said.

Officials said the Sittwe river connection with the North-east could be extended deeper into Myanmar and to countries in South-east Asia.

“Talks have already been initiated at Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) forum for a seamless waterways system connecting South Asian countries with South-east nations. Work on developing the network will begin in phases after project due diligence,” said the officials cited earlier.

The plan on the South Asian side is to link economically weaker eastern and North-eastern India and Bangladesh with northern India, Nepal and Bhutan, benefitting about 600 million people.

This will then be linked with Myanmar from Mizoram using the inland waterway terminal coming up near Sittwe. From there the river system will link with Thailand and move further South to Malaysia and Singapore.

Once these inland waterways are linked with coastal shipping, new commercial corridors with Myanmar, Singapore and Thailand are likely to emerge, generating a chain of multiple impacts across the region.

Though the cost of the project is yet to be worked out, experts said that advantages of this system will outscore any impediments as it using inland waters for transportation costs just a fifth of road routes and a lot lower than ocean shipping.

The transport grid using the waterways is part of India’s ‘Act East’ policy aimed at promoting economic cooperation, cultural ties and strategic relationships with countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

An earlier plan was to build a seamless road and railway network connecting India with South-east Asian countries.

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