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New Delhi : Union Ports, Shipping & Waterways and AYUSH Minister Sarbananda Sonowal on September 14, 2021, underlined the importance of cross-border connectivity among India and developing nations of South-East Asia.

Addressing the ASEAN summit on Future of India-ASEAN Connectivity Partnerships virtually from New Delhi on September 14, Sonowal said that  greater connectivity between ASEAN nations has long been both an economic and strategic objective for the ASEAN–India partnership. He said that connectivity provides the transmission channels through which development impulses can spread across the region and can add to the dynamism of economic and social progress.

The Minister said that India–ASEAN free trade agreement (FTA) is central to India’s growing engagement with her eastern neighbours. In this direction, he said, extension of the Trilateral Highway to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam will enable greater connectivity and economic integration of India’s northeast with its eastern neighbours.

Sonowal informed that India has helped construct two key stretches of the 1,360-km trilateral highway in Myanmar, but work on several other sections and the upgrade of nearly 70 bridges has been held up by a variety of factors. This highway will allow access to markets across the ASEAN region and boost people-to-people ties.

Sonowal emphasised on setting up of National Transport Facilitation Committees (NTFCs) of member countries to facilitate cross-border transportation and trade. He said that the physical connectivity between India and neighbouring south-east Asian countries will enable small and medium-sized enterprises in the border areas to explore new business opportunities, according to a PIB release.

The Minister also stressed on the need to realise that India and ASEAN are fast-growing consumer markets with a growing middle class and young population that is increasingly digitally connected. As such beyond movement of goods and physical connectivity, it is also important for two regions to explore ways to enhance digital connectivity. He said that the Government of India has been making efforts to turn India into a “Global Data Hub” through various policies and reforms.