India’s Act East Policy appeared to be getting into stride this week as Indian and Myanmar business people came together in Yangon for an India-Myanmar business conclave.
The conclave was hosted by the Indian Embassy in Yangon 18-20 May 2016 is part of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s outreach to his country’s eastern neighbours.
A 25-member business delegation from India attended the conclave led by Ms Nirmala Smanthiara Minister of State for Commerce & Industry under the theme: “Forging partnerships: How Myanmar - India business relations can contribute to the development of Myanmar.”
More than 40 CEOs from Myanmar attended the event at the Park Royal Hotel in Yangon. The conclave contained specialized discussions about several business areas such as agriculture, energy and health.
The aim was "to understand how India and Myanmar can build greater interaction and greater business-to-business interactions," said Ms Sitharaman. "India gives high importance in his relationship with Myanmar."
In the past questions arose as to why the trade between both countries is still so low in comparison to other neighbouring countries such as China. "We are the fifth largest partners, but of course there is hope of improving and expanding trade between India and Myanmar," Sitharaman responded.
She underlined that India had opened 96.4 percentof tariff lines at zero duty for Myanmar under its Duty Free Tariff Preference scheme to improve trade relations. Besides, connectivity has been a big topic in the discussions, she said. "We should have better direct flight connections, better sea connections. I am glad that the Minister of Construction came up with an elaborate plan, which the new elected government of Myanmar is taking up in bringing better road connectivity with India. I think things will improve soon."
The prioritized areas in which Indian business hopes to engage are energy, agriculture, health and education. "IT will be one of the main activities," said Ms Sitharaman referring to the country's plans to build up an IT university in Myanmar.
India’s ambassador to Myanmar, Mr Gautam Mukhopadhaya, recently announced India has set the target to increase the bilateral trade from the current level of US$1 billion to $10 billion by 2020.
Ms Sitharaman also underlined the importance of Indian banks coming to Myanmar to establish their businesses: "I honestly do think, the more the number of Indian banks come here, the business relationship and also industry wanting to invest will improve."
At the moment there is only the United Bank of India running business in Myanmar. The State Bank of India has recently got its license and will open business in October, Sitharaman said. "Indian banks are keen to come here and start their operations."
Ms Sitharaman said it was not possible to talk about concrete business deals made at the conclave as this is an issue of the companies among themselves and not of the government.
It was the first visit of any Minister from India after the new government in Myanmar took over. Sitharaman congratulated Myanmar for its landslide victory by the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi in the elections held in November 2015. She also acknowledged the calibrated and pragmatic stand of the Government towards a peaceful and orderly assumption of power.