Recognising each other's educational degrees, reducing visa fees to boost tourism and a motor vehicle act to facilitate seamless trade are among the stepping stones on the way to deeper India-Myanmar ties, say officials and experts.
Participants at a recent conference in Imphal also agreed on the need for better air connectivity, enhanced personnel deployment at the Integrated Check Point (ICP) in the border town of Moreh and overhauling the existing import mechanism to help farmers in Myanmar grow pulses and betel nuts.
The conference, which took the decision to work towards enhanced ties between the neighbours and speed up development in Myanmar and India's eastern region, was attended by a high-powered delegation, including the Chief Minister of Magway region Dr Aung Moe Nyo, and the ambassadors of both nations.
Moe Nyo emphasised that India and Myanmar need to explore the possibility of cooperation in education and health sectors.
“Medical services are much cheaper in India as compared to other countries like Thailand and Singapore. Both the countries need to take concrete steps and collaborate in health and education sector,” he told PTI. The June 11 event was organised by India Foundation, a New Delhi based think-tank that has signed an MoU with the Manipur government on developing a strategic vision for the state in collaboration with the Ministry of External Affairs.
Shristi Pukhrem, a senior research fellow at India Foundation, said the discussants agreed to further deepen their ties and work in a way so Yangon gains from India's Act East Policy.
“The two nations have mutually decided to work on signing an MoU on educational cooperation which should include recognition of educational degrees and facilitation of students in each-other's educational institutions,” Pukhrem, who was part of the Indian delegation, told PTI.
As of now, the two countries do not recognise each other's educational degrees.
She added that a motor vehicle agreement, which will ease vehicular movement between the two neighbours, was also in the pipeline.
“The Myanmar side asked India to ensure concerns of Myanmarese farmers growing pulses and betel nuts must be taken into account to facilitate better import mechanism,” she said.
“Similarly, there was consensus on improving air connectivity between Imphal and Delhi so that Myanmar tourists who are coming to Imphal via road can visit Bodhgaya as part of their Buddhist pilgrimage,” she added.
The two sides also agreed to expedite work on starting a bus service between Mandalay to Imphal, a decision taken in 2012.
An agreement was reached on setting up an Indian Consulate or Visa office in Kaley in Sagaing division of Myanmar.
“There was a detailed discussion on allowing tourists with e-Visas to cross into India from Myanmar across land border via Moreh as well as reduction of Visa fee for Indian tourists visiting Myanmar,” she said.
“Also, there was a call from the Myanmar side to have a full-fledged foreign exchange facility at Moreh is required,” she added.
Myanmar, the only Southeast Asian country which shares a 1,600-mile border with India, serves as its gateway to the other 10-member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Four North Eastern states -- Arunachal Pradesh (520 km), Manipur (398 km), Nagaland (215 km) and Mizoram (510 km) -- have unfenced borders with Myanmar
A senior diplomat at the MEA said the conference effectively positioned businesses and academia between the two nations.
“The purpose of this conference was to effectively position businesses, academia, government and all stakeholders in the northeast between the two nations as part of India's Act East policy,” Vikram Doraiswami, joint secretary looking after the affairs of India's engagement with the Bangladesh and Myanmar at the MEA, told PTI.
Refusing to divulge the exact details of the areas of cooperation agreed upon during the conference, Doraiswami said the event was intended to showcase how improved air and road connectivity between the neighbours will help the people living along the border of the two nations.
Current bilateral trade between India and Myanmar stands at USD 1.75 billion, mainly comprising pulses, meat, products, timber and pharmaceuticals.
Though the two nations agreed on boosting trade ties on several occasions, no concrete steps were taken till late last year.
According to Khriezo Yhome, a senior research fellow at New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation (ORF), it is important that they ensure early completion of existing projects.
“The idea that cooperation between India and Myanmar should begin at the borders is not new. The renewed focus towards translating the ideas into reality in recent years need to be sustained with periodic assessments of cross-border projects,” Yhome, a prominent Indian expert on Indo-Myanmar affairs, told PTI.
He said there were several projects which were delayed beyond their completion deadline.
“Even as some infrastructure projects have seen progress in the recent past, the fact remains that many significant projects such as Imphal-Mandalay bus services or the trilateral highways are yet to see the light of the day,” he said.
“As new projects are initiated, it is important to ensure that ongoing projects are expedited as completion of these decade-old projects will boost confidence among local people and the business community,” he added.