India today said it remained ready for a deeper economic and political engagement with its eastern neighbours, including Myanmar, which is maturing into a fully democratic country.
Addressing a World Economc Forum East Asia 2013 session entitled 'The Long-Term View' in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, today, India's minister of commerce, industry and textiles Anand Sharma said India's engagement with Myanmar is premised on a strong development partnership and that India would like to align its cooperation with the economic priorities of Myanmar.
Sharma also today discussed energy cooperation with Myanmar energy minister U Than Htay and pushed the trilateral highway project, which will link India with Myanmar and Thailand.
''India is working closely with Myanmar and Thailand to develop the tri-lateral highway as we call itů we are half-way there and am sure that by 2015-2016, this should be fully operational,'' Sharma said.
India remains committed ''to be a steadfast partner of Myanmar as it charters its path to growth and progress,'' he added.
With India concluding a comprehensive economic partnership agreement with ASEAN, Sharma stressed that this over-arching framework will act as a catalyst to boost trade and investment ties with countries of the region, including Myanmar.
Sharma also spoke of the importance of investment in human resource, adding that India has always believed that it will reap dividends in the long run. ''We have already established a centre of excellence in IT sector in Yangon. We are now going to establish an information technology institute in Mandalay. In addition to that we have also established an industrial training centre in Pakokku to develop skilled labour for Myanmar industry,'' Sharma said.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his visit to Myanmar in 2012 had announced doubling the number of training slot to Myanmar from 250 to 500.
Sharma also said India would like to share her experiences with Myanmar in the enhancement of agricultural productivity and agricultural extension. ''With this end in view, we are establishing an Advance Centre for Agricultural Research and Education at Yezin. A Rice Bio Park is also being established in Myanmar through grant assistance by India,'' said Sharma.
Sharma highlighted the importance of developing high-quality infrastructure, which would help in the creation of a robust economic linkage between India, Myanmar and beyond. He said the development of the Kaladan Multimodal Transit-Transport Project, which will connect Mizoram to Sittwe port in Myanmar, is part of the infrastructure programme.
Sharma, who also met Myanmar's democracy idol and future head of state Aung San Suu Kyi on the sidelines of WEF East Asia 2013 meet, said India stood ready to extend all necessary assistance to the people of Myanmar in their developmental efforts.
''Myanmar is a vitally important neighbour for us. The relations between our two countries have broadened and deepened in the past two years,'' Sharma.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi expressed keen interest in Myanmar building linkages with the textiles sector of India. Stressing the preference of the people of Myanmar for natural fiber, Suu Kyi said the handloom sector of India has immense potential for Myanmar. She also sought India's help in developing a full value chain for silk production in Myanmar.
During talks with Myanmar's energy minister U Than Htay, Sharma also conveyed the interest of Indian banks in setting up branches in Myanmar. ''India will also be happy to assist in strengthening the banking system in Myanmar as we inherit common banking laws,'' said Sharma.
The two ministers set a bilateral trade target of $3 billion by 2015.
They also emphasised the need to improve air, road and water connectivity between India and Myanmar. ''A joint working group (JWG) to determine the technical and commercial feasibility of cross-border rail links and the commercial feasibility of direct shipping links between the two countries are working with the sole aim of boosting trade ties between the two countries,'' said Sharma.
While total trade between the two countries stood at $1.708 billion in 2011, it was $1.872 billion in 2012. India is the fourth largest trading partner of Myanmar after Thailand, Singapore and China.
Elsewhere, India's defence minister AK Antony today offered to discuss with Thailand possible areas of cooperation and collaboration in defence production.
During talks with his Thai counterpart Air Chief Marshal Sukumpol Suwanatat in Bangkok, Antony said India has, over the years, developed a well-established defence industry, which can meet varying requirements of the Thai armed forces. He also invited Thai defence teams to various defence production facilities in India.
Antony said conscious planning, hard work by our scientists and support by the government is resulting in the growth of a strong defence industrial base in the country.
The two ministers discussed a wide range of issues, including regional security concerns.