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BW Businessworld

India Signs Agreement For Regional Connectivity

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India has signed a motor vehicles pact with Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh, enabling seamless transit of passenger, cargo and vehicles with the first stage of the $8 billion road connectivity project set to begin in October.
Besides, Myanmar and Thailand have agreed to develop a motor vehicle pact on lines of the draft SAARC Motor vehicle agreement, which will pave the way for greater economic cooperation in the ASEAN region.
Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari signed the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) for Regulation of Passenger, Personal and Cargo Vehicular Traffic along with transport ministers of the other three nations in Thimpu on Monday.
The BBIN MVA will not only reduce transport costs, but also foster development of multi-modal transport and transit facilities, enabling increased connectivity and promotion of greater trade between the four countries.
Transport Minister Gadkari addressing the conference at Thimpu said: "This MVA, which would eventually allow motor vehicles of all categories registered in our countries to move freely in the region, is a first and small but substantial step endorsing the commitment of our national leaders to deepen regional integration for peace, stability and prosperity." 
As per the agreement, the four countries will carry out a six-month work plan from July for the implementation of the BBIN MVA in accordance with the preparation of bilateral, perhaps trilateral or quadrilateral agreements and protocols, installation of the prerequisites for implementing the approved agreements, among others.
The staged implementation of the historic pact will begin in October this year.
In order to promote development of land transport that will connect supply and demand centres in the BBIN countries, a meeting of the Transport Secretaries of the four countries identified 30 priority transport connectivity projects with a total estimated cost of over $8 billion.
Gadkari said that India will work on signing a similar motor agreement with Myanmar and Thailand.
"I am happy to share with you all a significant initiative to strengthen connectivity of our sub-region to ASEAN. In this regard, a major breakthrough has been achieved between India, Myanmar and Thailand. Three nations have agreed to develop a similar framework MVA on the lines of draft SAARC Motor vehicle agreement," he said.
Secretary level discussions were successfully concluded in Bengaluru this month and consensus has been reached on the text of the agreement, he added.
Bigger Than Asean
"On conclusion of this agreement, our sub-region will get access to the larger Asean market through seamless passenger and cargo movement," the minister said.
Transforming transport corridors into economic corridors could potentially increase intra-regional trade within South Asia by almost 60 per cent and with the rest of the world by over 30 per cent.
The corridors and their related routes were determined as per an analysis of regional and international trade patterns.
Gadkari said the MVA is the "over-arching" framework to fulfil the commitment to enhance regional connectivity. This will need to be followed through with formulation of required protocols and procedures in the shortest time possible to realise free movement of people and goods in the region.
This would need to be supplemented through building and upgrading roads, railways and waterways infrastructure, energy grids, communications and air links to ensure smooth cross-border flow of goods, services, capital, technology and people, he added.
"The agreement that we have drawn up gives ample flexibility to each country to take steps to operationalise the agreement as per the need and comfort of each nation.
"This endeavour was also actively supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which functioned as the interim secretariat for the four-countries," Gadkari said in his speech.
He further said: "I am informed that ADB is also ready to invest in road infrastructure projects..." 
Progress and economic development of the countries in the region are inter-linked and an enhanced regional activity will give a boost to trade and commerce among the nations and with other regions through intra-regional and inter-regional trade.
Besides Gadkari, Bangladesh Minister of Road Transport and Bridges Obaidul Quader, Bhutan's Minister of Information and Communications Lyonpo D N Dhungyel and Nepal's Minister of Physical Infrastructure and Transport Bimalendra Nidhi represented their respective countries.
All the four countries agreed on a six-month work plan for the BBIN MVA, from July to December.
It includes formulation, negotiation, and finalisation of the necessary legal instruments and operating procedures for implementing the agreement.
It also includes installation of the pre-requisite systems and infrastructure for carrying out the approved arrangements, such as information technology systems, and tracking and regulatory systems.
The SAARC MVA was expected to be signed during the SAARC Summit in Kathmandu in November 2014, but it could not be signed due to Pakistan's reservations.
The declaration at the then Kathmandu Summit encouraged member states to initiate regional and sub-regional measures for connectivity. Hence, a sub-regional MVA among Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal was considered.