External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Friday (August 2) emphasised on better connectivity between the member countries of the Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC) bloc for developing a “vibrant economic growth corridor”.
The MGC, which takes its name from the Ganga and the Mekong — the two civilisational rivers in Southeast Asia, is a sub-regional cooperation organisation comprising India and five ASEAN countries, namely, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
Launched in 2000 at Laos capital Vientiane, the MGC aims at facilitating closer contacts among the people inhabiting these two major river basins and enhancing cooperation in tourism, culture, education, transport and communications.
Addressing the 10th MGC Ministerial Meeting in the Thai capital, Jaishankar said, “Connectivity is a major focus area of our cooperation. We look forward to the early completion of the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and its extension to Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam.”
He said the Jakarta-based Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) have been tasked to study the feasibility of “developing the planned highway as a vibrant economic growth corridor”.
The full report is expected to be completed early next year.
Jaishakar also emphasised on the need to quickly finalise the India-Myanmar-Thailand Motor Vehicle Agreement to facilitate seamless movement of goods and passengers across borders. The move, he said, will lead to greater trade and tourism.
India had earlier announced a $1 billion Line of Credit for connectivity projects in the ASEAN.
The minister also emphasised on enhancing direct air connectivity between the member nations to facilitate better “business and tourism”. He announced that low-cost Indian carrier, IndiGo, will start direct flights on the New Delhi-Ho Chi Minh City sector from October and daily services from Kolkata to Yangon from late September.
IndiGo and Vistara have also been designated Indian carriers under the India-Cambodia bilateral Air Services Agreement.
The meeting was also attended by Pham Binh Minh, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam, Sok Siphana, adviser to the Royal Government of Cambodia, Saleumxay Kommasith, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Laos, Kyaw Tin, Union Minister for International Cooperation of Myanmar and Don Pramudwinai, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand.
The ministers adopted the new MGC Plan of Action 2019-2022 that envisages project-based cooperation in the areas of tourism and culture, education, public health and traditional medicine, agriculture and allied sectors, transport and communication, MSMEs, water resources management, science and technology, skill development and capacity building.
They welcomed India’s assistance to Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam under the MGC Quick Impact Projects (QIP) Scheme and noted that since its inception in 2014, as many as 24 projects have been completed so far.
In 2019, eighteen QIPs will be implemented in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos at a cost of $900,000.
The ministers appreciated India’s pledge of $72.5 million under a Project Development Fund to facilitate Indian investments in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.
They highlighted the importance of water resources management as a new area of cooperation and appreciated India’s offer to conduct training programmes and workshops in water resource management and community farming.