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India urging ASEAN to explore opportunities in North East Region: Salman Khurshid
With the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between India and ASEAN in place, the two sides expect bilateral trade to increase to $100 billion by 2015 and $200 billion within a decade. India's Minister for External Affairs Salman Khurshid has said that the FTA will help in developing the North East region and the Government of India is urging the ASEAN to make concentrated efforts to explore the opportunities in the region.

Addressing FICCI's Round Table Discussion on 'Opportunity North East: Emerging International Connectivity', he said that with the trilateral highway connecting India, Myanmar and Thailand, which is in the pipeline, the region is set to get a boost as the highway would act as a connecting link within and outside India for North East.

The Great Asian Highway connecting SAARC and ASEAN, and branching out to connect Bhutan and Sikkim, is another proposed project, which when completed would allow both transportation of goods and movement of people freely in Asia, said Khurshid. He urged the private sector players to actively participate in the development process of the North East by investing in the region.

Ranjit Barthakur, Chairman, FICCI North East Advisory Council, said that very little industrial development has taken place and most of the items are imported from outside the region. He attributed this to lack of power and energy and inadequate connectivity of the region within and outside the country.

He suggested that providing logistics facilities for trade and movement of goods, travel amenities at par with international standards, nucleus for congregation of economic activities in the area and creation of multiple planned urban centres across the region, can help in fast tracking the development of North East. Also, developing the existing river ports with modern infrastructure would help in reducing the cost and increasing efficiency of transportation in the region.

The power sector can be developed in the North East  provided there is a will because the region is endowed with water resources, tributaries and hilly terrain, which holds good potential for hydropower; has adequate gas processing and power units to exploit remote gas assets in the region and infrastructural opportunities including roads and power transmission projects, Barthakur stated.

In her welcome address, Naina Lal Kidwai, President of FICCI, said that the trilateral highway connecting India, Myanmar, Thailand and the proposed Trans Asian Railway will greatly enhance the region's connectivity with South East Asia. Significant progress has already been made on both these projects. 

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This enhanced connectivity will open up many opportunities for the region. However to be able to truly benefit from this, the region must upgrade its infrastructure, develop its human resources, put in place policies to attract investments and design mechanisms to facilitate trade.

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