By Petchanet Pratruangkrai
Susheel Saraff, adviser and former president to the India-Thai Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview with The Nation that new Indian government policies would encourage more inbound and outbound investment by Indian enterprises in various sectors.
They would also help promote more growth for both sides.
For India, the measures could include reopening of the famed ‘Road to Mandalay’. The proposed India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway, part of which entails linking India to Myanmar and then further to Southeast Asia, is a strategic project Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken up as a priority.
A strong push for the completion of the 3,200-km trilateral highway, is an important component in the government’s plans to ramp up its "Look East" policy to the newly coined "Act East" policy. The link is expected to be ready by 2018, about two years behind schedule.
The highway project will ensure that India’s eastern border is opened to a new bus route from Imphal to Mandalay, enabling travellers to board a bus from Manipur’s capital to reach Mandalay in just over 14 hours. The trilateral highway project, along with the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport model, is one cornerstone of the new government’s "Act East" plan.
Susheel pointed out that as India has now the world’s strongest economic expansion, projected to grow by 7.5 per cent this year, Thai businesses should tighten more trade, investment, cooperation in tourism and other sectors with India.
"So far, Indian enterprises are looking forward to a comprehensive FTA between Thailand and India to liberalise not only trade, but also investment and services, and promote more cooperation in many sectors. Business people expect this FTA to be signed by this year after long talks," said Susheel.
According to the government, Thailand and India have already signed an early harvest programme covering 82 items of trade in goods since 2003. The two countries have tried to wrap up the comprehensive talks by this year, but some points are still to be discussed on service liberalisation.
Susheel said that to make Thailand a centre of trade and investment under the Asean integration, it should allow the opening of businesses to promote more development and competitiveness in the service sector. He noted that many Thai service enterprises had developed strongly and the protection of the service sector would only destroy Thailand’s attractiveness among foreign investors.
He said many India investors would like to expand businesses to Thailand following those already here, such as Tata motor, Dunlop tyre, and Apollo. More firms in manufacturing, tourism, hotel and accommodation - and services such as IT, engineering, jewellery, textiles, insurance, and trading. Thailand is already considered a centre for expansion to other Asean nations - mainly Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam.
Moreover, to promote more investment in Thailand, the India-Thai Chamber of Commerce has urged the Thai government to solve its labour shortage problems. Investment would not grow as expected if Thailand lacked a strong work force, especially skilled labour.
Susheel also called on Thailand to relax regulations on visa permits to allow more business people and travelers access and exchange between Thailand and India.
According to the chamber almost one-million Indian travelers visited Thailand last year, while about 62,000 Thais went to India. The number of tourists could double in a few years with fewer regulations and more flights between major cities.
Susheel said Thailand was one of India’s top destinations for organising wedding ceremonies, with each Indian family ceremony bringing in from Bt5 million to Bt10 billion in income to Thailand.
As Thailand has expertise in tourism, India also would like to form closer ties to learn about tourism promotion.
Susheel said many Thai enterprises had great potential to expand investment in India under the Indian government policy ‘Made in India’ to promote more manufacturing and increase employment opportunities.
Sectors that Thai enterprises have potential to invest in India are in food processing, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, and services.
Thailand’s total trade with India in 2014 was US$8.66 billion [imports from India amounted to $3.04 billion, exports $5.62 billion].