Myanmar joins SASEC, boost to India’s Act East Policy

myanmar-sasecIn a boost to India’s Act East policy, Myanmar has formally become a full member of South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) programme of Asian Development Bank (ADB), becoming the seventh country to join the grouping.

The SASEC programme of ADB was formed in 2001 in response to the request of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal to assist in facilitating economic cooperation among them. Sri Lanka and Maldives joined the sub-regional grouping in 2014.

Addressing a meeting of ADB in New Delhi on April 1, Shaktikanta Das, Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance of India, said that the development of multi-modal connectivity between the Northeast region of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar has the potential of unleashing tremendous economic energy in the sub-region.

He noted that Myanmar is key to realizing greater connectivity and stronger trade and economic relations between SASEC sub-region and the countries of East and Southeast Asia and that Myanmar’s membership in SASEC can offer a host of opportunities for realising synergies from economic cooperation in the sub-region.

SASEC member-countries recognise that most of SASEC’s multimodal connectivity initiatives include Myanmar as road corridors in Myanmar provide the key links between South Asia and Southeast Asia and ports in Myanmar will provide additional gateways to the landlocked North Eastern region of India, Mr Das said.

SASEC’s energy connectivity and energy trade prospects will be enhanced with the inclusion of Myanmar, involving its substantial resources of hydropower and natural gas, he said.

Since early 1990s, India has been in the forefront of efforts to economically integrate Southeast Asia by promoting sub-regional groupings like Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral, Technical and Economic Cooperation, Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal initiative and Bangladesh, India, China, Myanmar (BICM) with the last two being purely aimed at fostering physical connectivity. India has been championing the cause of Myanmar as a bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia.

Myanmar was accorded an observer status at SASEC in 2013 when ADB’s annual meeting was held in India and has been participating in annual SASEC Nodal Officials’ meetings as an observer since 2014. It was invited by the participating countries of SASEC countries to become a full member in 2015.

Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal comprise the South Asia Growth Quadrangle (SAGQ), formed in 1996, as a vehicle for accelerating sustainable economic development through regional cooperation. As a project-based partnership, the SASEC programme has been helping to enhance cross-border connectivity, facilitate faster and more efficient trade and promote cross-border power trade. Maldives and Sri Lanka joined SASEC in 2014.

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