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Business News/ Politics / News/  India, central Asia nations should consider air corridors: Jaishankar
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India, central Asia nations should consider air corridors: Jaishankar

Air corridors will boost trade in perishable goods and farm products
  • Tension with Pakistan hinders access to resource-rich central Asia
  • Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam JaishankarPremium
    Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar

    New Delhi: Foreign minister S Jaishankar on Thursday said India and central Asian countries should look at the viability of establishing air corridors besides Iran’s Chabahar route to boost trade, given the lack of an overland route connecting the two sides.

    Despite the historical links with the central Asian states and India moving quickly to establish diplomatic ties with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan after their emergence as independent countries almost three decades ago, trade had not grown beyond $2 billion, Jaishankar said at an event organized by the Federation of Indian Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in New Delhi.

    “Clearly, a great potential exists in enhancing trade and economic engagement between India and Central Asia. There is the challenge of lack of efficient overland connectivity," the minister said.

    He noted that India and central Asian states had prioritized energy, pharmaceuticals, automotive, agro-processing, education, urban infrastructure and transport, civil aviation, IT and tourism to strengthen economic links.

    India’s efforts to reach out to landlocked but resource rich central Asia has been hampered by the lack of a direct overland route for trade. This is mainly due to India’s tense ties with Pakistan.

    Pakistan has denied India permission to send goods via road to Afghanistan and beyond. To overcome this, India and Afghanistan currently operate flights that ferry perishables like fruits, besides dry fruits, from major Afghan cities.

    “While flying time from Delhi for most of the Central Asian destinations is 2 hours, it may take 2 months for containers sent overland from India to reach these places. Availability of air corridors can boost trade in perishable goods, agricultural and food products. I would encourage FICCI to take lead in bringing together stakeholders and conduct a brainstorming session to examine this," he said.

    New Delhi’s first preference to overcome the connectivity challenge was, however, through the Chabahar route, Jaishankar indicated. In 2003, India first proposed developing the Iranian port, situated less than 100 nautical miles from the Chinese built port of Gwadar in Pakistan. But US sanctions on Iran for its suspected nuclear programme and later the re-imposition of sanctions after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal two years ago have stymied India’s plans to develop the port.

    Last week, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman allocated 100 crores for Chabahar port development. This follows an assurance from the US that it would help facilitate global banks to fund the purchase of equipment at the port.

    “India, Iran and Afghanistan believe that Chabahar will become the fulcrum of connectivity for Indian goods to reach Afghanistan and further north to Central Asian states and for the landlocked Central Asia to find access to ocean through this port," Jasihankar said.

    “Our connectivity initiatives through the International North South Transport Corridor and the Ashgabat Agreement will also continue," Jaishankar said, referring to a 7,200-km-long multi-mode network of ship, rail, and road route for moving freight between India, Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe as well as an international multi-modal transport and transit corridor between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.

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    Published: 07 Feb 2020, 12:56 PM IST
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