India clears the decks for multi-modal transnational connectivity play
New Delhi: India is moving ahead with its plans of accessing transnational multi-modal connectivity.
As part of this strategy, the Union cabinet on Monday approved the signing of the Transports Internationaux Routiers or International Road Transports (TIR) Convention by the government.
The multilateral international transit treaty—Customs Convention on International Transport of Goods under cover of TIR Carnets—is also referred to as the TIR Convention and functions under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
India will be the 71st signatory to this international transit system, designed to facilitate the seamless movement of goods throughout these countries in Asia and Europe. Interestingly, the two countries which signed TIR before India were Pakistan (2015) and China (2016).
Hence, India’s participation in TIR may also facilitate trade with its eastern and western neighbours.
Viewed along with the Indian Railways’s plan of setting up a Trans-Asian Railway (TAR) route presented last week, these intermodal regional connectivity plays succinctly articulate India’s role in the proposed transportation architecture in the region and beyond.
This comes against the backdrop of China’s ambitious “One Belt One Road” initiative aimed at connecting some 60 countries across Asia, Africa and Europe to boost trade and economic ties on the lines of the traditional maritime route.
“(The TIR Convention) is to improve the international connectivity and movement of cargo across the countries in the multi-modal format. Goods can go from Mumbai or Kandla Port to Iran. From Iran they can go via rail or road to Central Asia or Europe,” a senior government official said, requesting anonymity.
In response to Mint’s specific query on TIR Convention facilitating India’s trade relationship with Pakistan and China, a UNECE spokesperson declined to comment.
“With regard to your specific questions, they mainly relate to issues subject to national law or bilateral or regional regulations. Therefore, the UNECE secretariat, which serves to facilitate the administration of the TIR Convention, is not in a position to provide you with specific answers,” the UNECE spokesperson said in an emailed response.
The initiative comes at a time when India’s willingness to attend a meeting of Indus Water commissioners in Lahore later this month is being viewed as an indication that the two countries were ready to start re-engaging after a year of acrimony.
The TIR Convention will help India move goods along the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC)—an ambitious multi-modal transportation established in 2000 by Iran, Russia and India to promote transportation cooperation. INSTC is to connect the India Ocean and Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea through Iran and then onwards to St. Petersburg and northern Europe through Russia.
To make the TAR route of Dhaka-Kolkata-Delhi-Amritsar-Lahore-Islamabad-Zahedaan-Tehran-Istanbul operational, a meeting of the chief executives of the railways of Iran, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey and India is to be held this month in India.
“By joining the convention, the need for inspection of goods at intermediate borders as well as physical escorts en route shall be obviated due to reciprocal recognition of Customs controls. Customs clearance can take place at internal Customs locations thereby avoiding clearances at Border Crossing Points and ports that may often be congested. Movement under the TIR can be allowed by checking only the seals and the external conditions of the load compartment or the container thereby reducing border delays, transport and transaction costs thereby leading to increased competitiveness and growth for the trade and transport sectors,” the government said in a statement on Monday.
Experts say that India is laying down the building blocks.
“Economic integration is the only way forward. When economic interests converge, other things fall in place. That’s the reason why gas from India was intended to fuel Lahore’s kitchens,” said Saurabh Chandra, a former secretary in the department of industrial policy and promotion.
India has been promoting a multi-modal transport strategy involving railways, highways and waterways. The government’s intent was articulated by finance minister Arun Jaitley in his budget speech last month, where he stressed upon the importance of an effective multi-modal transportation system for a competitive economy.
India plans to develop Chabahar port in Iran, which will allow access to landlocked Afghanistan and energy-rich Central Asia through the Jawaharlal Nehru and Kandla ports on India’s west coast.
In addition, India has built a 218km-road link connecting Delaram with Zaranj in Afghanistan, which is adjacent to Iran’s border.
India has also been instrumental in the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, along with the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal Motor Vehicles Agreement.
“The idea behind the TIR concept is easy and quick movement of cargo,” said another government official, who also declined to be named.