Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, Secretary, Economic Relations, in the Ministry of External Affairs said that India's relations with Myanmar are strategic given their shared land boundary in India's northeast and the Bay of Bengal.

“While both sides have inked a MoU on border area development, we do have some remaining boundary issues where there are problems of identifying where construction can be done or cannot be done. We are trying to work that out", said Chakravarty at a Roundtable conference on 'India's Response to Changing Myanmar'.

His comments come in the wake of Myanmarese troops last month attempting to raise a defence post and fencing close to the undemarcated boundary along Manipur. India had taken up the issue with Myanmar and pushed for a joint working group.

Chakravarty said that the 1,400-km Trilateral Highway, linking India, Myanmar and Thailand is "still a work in progress". Some portions of the highway, which is a major connectivity project of India and the ASEAN, are still to be completed in Thailand and Myanmar. The highway from Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in Thailand via Myanmar is slated to become a reality by 2016.

He said that the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project would provide northeast India access to Myanmar's Sittwe port. Addressing the roundtable, organized by Society for Policy Studies and India International Centre, Chakravarty said that with India being a major importer of fossil fuels for its energy security needs Indian companies, including ONGC Videsh and GAIL, were working in some blocks in hydrocarbon-rich Myanmar.

He said that Essar and Jubilant were also among Indian companies working in Myanmar's oil and gas sector. Myanmar had shortlisted several other Indian companies that had applied for scouting for hydrocarbons, he added. India is also a major importer of pulses, including moong dal, from Myanmar, he said adding that both sides have potential for cooperation in palm oil and timber plantation in Myanmar.

India-Myanmar trade has grown appreciably, standing at $1.95 billion, with India's exports at only $550 million. "The balance of trade is in Myanmar's favour," he said, adding that timber dominates Myanmar's exports to India. Both sides have two border trading points, Moreh-Tamu and Zowkhatar-Rhi. Another is to be opened at AvakhungPansat/Somrai, he said.

Myanmar Member of Parliament, Pu Zo Zam voiced concern over large scale poppy cultivation by Manipuri people in Myanmar and also hoped that Indian projects in Myanmar would address the concerns of the local people and not be like China, overlooking environmental concerns.

Pu Zo Zam, chairperson, Chin National Party and member of Chin state parliament, said his people "suffer" due to the poppy cultivation. "We don't want opium to flood our country," he said. Tint Swe, former MP of the National League for Democracy, too, voiced concern at the poppy cultivation, about which, he alleged, the government was doing nothing.

Preet Malik, former Indian envoy to Myanmar, said India should also try to involve the private sector in Myanmar's infrastructure projects.


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