NEW DELHI (TCA) — How important the Central Asian Republics (CARs) are becoming to India was evident when a two-day long conference was held in the Indian capital New Delhi late in September to encourage trade and tourism with these countries. While titled ‘Destination CIS’, the emphasis was clearly on Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which were also the partner countries of the conference. Only one single session was devoted to business with the Russian region of Rostov. The rest of the sessions of the conference, which was the first of its kind, were focused on the CARs mentioned above. Turkmenistan did not participate.
With India’s efforts to increase exports and make the country a manufacturing hub with different schemes like Make in India, Skill India and others, increasingly new opportunities are being created for enhancing international economic cooperation. “At this juncture, where the traditional and the developed markets are getting saturated, it is essential for the developing economies to find ways to boost trade and investment between them. The CIS region, one of the fastest growing regions of the world, offers India tremendous opportunities across various sectors,” explained Mr. Niraj, who is Secretary, International Affairs, of the PHD Chamber of Commerce, which had organized the conference.
What made the conference particularly opportune was that this year also marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and most of the CIS countries.
The CARs have had trade and cultural links with India going centuries back. The current government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is keen to revive these links to the resource rich region, formulating the Connect Central Asia policy. To that end he has visited all the CARs, with Kazakhstan being the most recent destination. With an increasing Chinese footprint in the region – with $10 billion in grants and aid – India is also keen to seize the opportunities present there. Indian trade turnover with the region on the other hand is only about 2.5 billion dollars.
Four major areas with great potential for bilateral trade and cooperation that were identified were: food security in the CIS countries, promotion of two way tourism, finance and logistics, and promotion and delivery of affordable world class healthcare.
While India offers the CARs a huge market for their goods – mainly dry fruits, handicrafts, and tourists, particularly those looking for affordable but quality healthcare, the country is also interested in the minerals and hydrocarbons of the Central Asia region.
A major drawback for the country to strengthen and enhance ties with the region is connectivity. India has no direct access to the CARs, and any overland route has to go through Pakistan, its arch rival.
To that end India is pinning its hopes on the International North South Transport Corridor which is to link India via Iran and the Caspian Sea through a multi-modal transport system to Central Asia, and beyond to Astrakhan and Russia.
India is also looking into a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union which will significantly increase trade profitability.
At the same time, as Dr. Ram Upendra Das, Head and Professor for Centre for Regional Trade, Department of Commerce, the Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry, pointed out, for most Indian businesses the CARs were an alien entity with many even unable to pronounce the names properly.
The conference was therefore an attempt to bridge the information gap and clear misconceptions about doing trade with the region.
As Ms. Samargul Adamkova pointed out, manufacturing in the Kyrgyz Republic, for instance, would instantly find a ready market of 183 million people in the Eurasian Economic Union member countries, thereby offering huge incentives for Indian investments.
A parallel exhibition showcasing the achievements, tourism industry and handicrafts of the region added to the knowledge about the CARs that the conference sought to disseminate.
* Aditi Bhaduri is an independent journalist and political analyst specializing in international affairs and foreign policy. She writes for many national and international publications