Northeast India Eyes To Be Gateway To Southeast Asia

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GUWAHATI, Assam, July 17 (Antara) - Assam, a state in Northeast India, is seeking to position itself as a gateway to Southeast Asia and ASEAN member countries, Chief Minister of Assam Sarbananda Sonowal said here on Monday.

"We are interested in developing connectivity and all connections with the ASEAN member countries," Sonowal said to a group of ASEAN journalists during an India-ASEAN media exchange program in Guwahati on Monday.

Since Southeast Asia has become a major trade destination for Indian companies, Assam has the potential to emerge as India's corridor to the region.

Its capital, Guwahati, is also one of the fastest growing regions in the South Asian country, he said.

Sonowal also conveyed that the Assam Government is seeking to improve its connectivity, especially in establishing air routes, with Southeast Asian nations.

He also invited ASEAN member countries to set up their consulate offices in the state's capital, Guwahati, for liaising with the state government and exploring business opportunities.

"We are interested in welcoming ASEAN member countries to set up their consulates here," he said.

The neighboring Bhutan in February this year became the second country after Bangladesh to open a consulate in Guwahati whereas most of foreign countries' consulates and international airports are located in Kolkata and New Delhi.

Meanwhile, Additional Chief Secretary of State Government of Assam Ravi Capoor said that the hilly, fertile, lush and green Assam has a lot of similarities with Southeast Asia such as its foods, culture, arts, traditional clothes and people.

"We are basically part of Southeast Asia," Capoor said.

The full implementation of the FTA in goods between India and ASEAN will help boost trade between the two regions.

However, connectivity and infrastructures have become major challenges to further push the trade ties of India and the Southeast Asian nations.

"We have created hurdles among ourselves. We have to open up. We also needs to do a lot of trade," Capoor said.

Capoor also mentioned that India will be a huge market for Southeast Asian products.

The strength of ASEAN member countries is particularly in food processing. "These are industries we have to work together," he said.

Establishing Assam as a hub in Northeast India would be favorable for India's efforts in achieving a balanced and fast-paced growth of its Northeastern region as Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated in the Act East Policy.

The Act East Policy requires increased people to people contacts, trade ties and other relations with countries on India's east, particularly the ASEAN member states.

Meanwhile, as an ASEAN member country, Indonesia holds a significant position for the Indian economy as it is the biggest trading partner in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

India has become an export destination country for Indonesian palm oil and the second-largest coal importer.

With regard to investment, India is also important for Indonesia. India's investments rose significantly in 2017, more than five folds from US$55 million a year earlier to US$286.6 million.

Based on data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2017, the Indonesia-India trade balance increased 28.7 percent, with total exports of $14.08 billion and imports at $4.05 billion.