New Delhi, July 5 (IANS) On the eve of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s five-nation Central Asian tour, the Confederation of Indian Industry has said trade with the region could jump manifold provided the right connectivity was put in place.
“There is need to rapidly move forward on the International North-South Transport Corridor that would connect India to Central Asia and Russia via Iran,” Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) director general Chandrajit Banerjee said in a statement here on Sunday.
“The INSTC (International North-South Transport Corridor) would greatly reduce freight transport time and open up connectivity between these regions,” he added.
“There is need to develop more transport corridors that can connect India to the Central Asia region and provide commercial and shipping access to India’s warm water ports for these land-locked nations,” Banerjee said.
“CII estimates that trade with the five Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan can multiply manifold from the small base of $1.4 billion currently,” he added.
Pointing to India’s ancient links with Central Asia, the industry body said: “Priority must be given to a pipeline connecting India to Central Asia as in the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Iran-Pakistan) pipeline project.”
The INSTC agreement was signed more than a decade ago with Russia and Iran for better connectivity to the Eurasian region through Iran. The INSTC members met last month and reviewed the status of report on the dry run between India, Iran and Russia via the Caspian Sea, while a follow-up meeting has been slated for this month.
The transport corridor across Nhava Sheva (Mumbai) through Bandar Abbas port (Iran) to Astrakhan (Russia) and Baku (Azerbaijan) is expected to substantially cut cargo transportation time between India, the Central Asian region and Russia.
The CII also suggested that India and the three-member Eurasian Economic Union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus engage in free trade agreement negotiations on the fast-track.
Modi is also slated to visit Ufa City in Russia for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and BRICS summits, where he will also have an extended meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on plans to further the strategic partnership between Russia and India.
While Kazakhstan is a major oil producer and Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have some of the biggest natural gas reserves, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are estimated to have considerable untapped reserves.
Modi’s visit will be the first by an Indian prime minister after Jawaharlal Nehru to a region linked by history with India. The ties run deep, considering the journey of the Turkicised Mongols from the region to India to found the Mughal empire.
Meanwhile, India and the Eurasian Economic Union have set up a joint study group to explore the feasibility of a free-trade agreement for promoting bilateral trade and investments, India’s commerce ministry said in a statement here last week.
The study group will submit its report within a year.