Thailand and India could serve their respective "Look East" and "Look West" economic policies amid slowing growth globally, as both countries have high potential to expand and serve as gateways to the Asean and South Asian markets, a seminar heard.
New transport routes linking Thailand, Myanmar and northern India totalling 1,306 kilometres, which will be completed in 2016, should promote stronger connectivity between India and Thailand and greatly facilitate business growth.
At the seminar on "Promoting Business Linkages between Asean and India's Northeast" held in Bangkok yesterday, Indian officials and businesspeople said Thai investors should not overlook their country, whose economic growth is among the world's strongest.
The event brought a delegation of about 22 people from India to meet with 150 Thai businesspeople in a quest tighter trade and investment.
Amid slowdowns in many countries, including China and Japan, the two economic giants of Asia, the Indian market has one of the highest potentials for Thai traders and investors. Also, Thailand could have high potential for Indian businesses looking for closer ties with the Asean region.
Indian Ambassador to Thailand Anil Wadhwa said that the Kingdom's Look West policy and India's Look East policy would present greater opportunities for both countries to promote trade and investment between the two regions.
"The Asean Economic Community, which by 2015 will bring greater integration in the region, will also have higher attractiveness for Indian enterprises wishing to trade and invest more in the region," he said.
"The highway connecting India, Myanmar and Thailand scheduled [for completion] in 2016 should serve to boost growth of trade and investment from India to Thailand and from Thailand to India and around the region."
Moreover, the bilateral free-trade agreement between Thailand and India, which will soon be completed as a comprehensive pact covering trade in goods, services and investment, should help promote stronger trade.
Trade between the two nations is projected to reach US$14 billion by 2014, from the current $9 billion (Bt275 billion), Wadhwa said.
So far, Thailand and India have agreed to liberalise trade under the early-harvest pact covering 84 products. The comprehensive FTA should be ratified by the end of this month and implemented early in the new year. However, there could be a delay in its implementation, according to the Trade Negotiations Department.
Commerce Minister Boonsong Teriyapirom said that with a dynamic and ever-expanding economy, India, especially the northeastern region, had high potential as a bridge between Thailand and India.
"The northeastern region of India will be a key strategic location that will provide Asean member countries with numerous trade and investment opportunities," Boonsong said.
Trade between Asean and India is expected to reach $90 billion by 2015, up 45 per cent from 2010. The value of Asean-India trade was registered at $76 billion last year.
Asean and India between them possess one of the most immense potentials in the world. The two regions have a combined population of 1.8 billion, or 26 per cent of the world's people. India has the third-largest economy in Asia, just behind China and Japan. Its gross domestic product was valued at $1.7 trillion last year.
Satish Sehgal, president of the Indian-Thai Chamber of Commerce, said Thailand would greatly benefit from the improved road connectivity, which would facilitate export of many goods to India and Myanmar.
He pointed out that India had high demand for everything, whether goods or services. Not only is its growing middle class fuelling this demand, India has a large upper-income market.
Products that have potential for higher trade in India are fruits and other foods, products of small and medium-sized enterprises such as fresh flowers, gems and ornaments. Services such as restaurants, hotels, and tourism could also see greater opportunities as Indian travellers favour Thailand, while there are only 180 Thai restaurants in India.
About a million Indian tourists visit Thailand annually. It is expected that this number will reach 1.6 million in the next three years, Sehgal said.
Chen Numchairisi, vice-chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, agreed that the road linkage should promote trade and investment between Asean and India. However, the respective governments should also streamline customs procedures to facilitate trade and investment.
Mark Laitflang Stone, managing director of Avenues, which operates educational institutions in India's northeast, said many Indian enterprises would like to form joint ventures with Thai investors to set up business in this and other countries.
He said India should also serve as educational centre for Thai students to learn English at lower cost than in other countries.