The vision of a prosperous Indo-Pacific and its significance to the sustainable development of the North East region of India by creating resilient value chains, facilitating trade, further developing connectivity infrastructure while aligning to the aspirations of the people of the region was highlighted by several eminent experts and policymakers at a unique dialogue on the theme: A Prosperous Indo-Pacific: Enhancing Cooperation in India’s Northeast and Eastern Neighbourhood. Organized by The Asian Confluence, a leading Indian think tank headquartered in Shillong, in collaboration with the Australian Consulate-General Kolkata, it had high-level participation from both India and Australia.
In his inaugural address, H. E. Barry O’ Farrell, Australian High Commissioner to India highlighted that Australia regards India as a natural leader in the region and said “Connecting northeast India and Bay of Bengal countries with a resilient and prosperous Indo-Pacific is important for the region’s continued economic development. Through enhanced connectivity and trade, the northeast can become a gateway to neighboring and ASEAN countries”. He further added, “The disruptions caused by COVID 19 have led to the need to build resilient supply chains not just for essential medical supply and pharmaceuticals but also for agriculture, manufacturing, etc.”
In her keynote address, Ambassador Riva Ganguly Das, Secretary (East), MEA highlighted India’s SAGAR (Security and growth for all in the region) Initiative, which was announced by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi in 2014, She also said that India has announced the Indo Pacific Oceans’ Initiative (IPOI) with its 7 pillars of cooperation While spelling out the details of many of the connectivity projects underway, she said: “Given our geographic location, connectivity comes naturally to us and there has been a renewed focus on connectivity, both within India as well as with our partner countries”. In his welcome remarks, Mr. Madan Prasad Bezbaruah, Chairman of the Asian Confluence Governing Council, highlighted that sustainability should be the driving force of prosperity and how the pandemic has brought up new areas of focus like health, infrastructure cooperation, and capacity development.
The dialogue witnessed participation by several eminent academicians, scholars, investors, businessmen, and government officials. Divided into two technical sessions, the first brought together Ms. Sonia Arrakal at the Perth USAsia Center, Mr. Kengo Akamine from JICA India, Dr. Prabir from the ASEAN-India Center at RIS, New Delhi, Dr. Shristi Pukhrem, India Foundation, who hails from Manipur, and Mr. Dipanjan Ray Chaudhury, Diplomatic Editor of The Economic Times in a conversation, facilitated by Amb. Deepa Gopalan Wadhwa, former Indian Ambassador to Japan and a member of the Asian Confluence Governing Council. Many innovative ideas on India-Australia partnership at a bilateral level in sectors such as mining, education, energy, etc. were highlighted. Mr. Kengo Akamine, Senior Representative of JICA India presented the projects being done by Japan in the region and highlighted the need for setting priorities for projects in a strategic manner. The trilateral partnership between India, Australia, and Japan can be further explored in the region in the areas of development of connectivity and trade facilitation and so also with the QUAD as the panelists highlighted. However, the region cannot be seen as a homogenous entity and the aims and aspirations of all the eight North-East states are different” said Dr. Shristi Pukhrem.
In the third session, Amb. Anil Wadhwa, former Secretary East in the MEA chaired a session with the government voices of Mr. Tim White, Investment and Trade Commissioner, Austrade; Dr. KK Dwivedi, IAS, Principal Secretary to the Government of Assam, Industries & Commerce Department, Assam along with industry representatives, Mr. Rudra Chatterjee, Managing Director, Luxmi Group and Chairman Obetee; Ms. Debdatta Nandwani, Lead Consultant, East India Trade Advisors; and Ms. Jahnabi Phookan, Director, Assam Bengal Navigation Company, JTI Group. Sustainable tourism, Tea, Furniture, logistics, digital trade, etc. were highlighted as possible areas of collaboration. Dr. Dwivedi noted that while Australia-India trade is at around US$29 billion, the Northeast region’s contribution is minuscule. He also highlighted that there are 1500 Japanese companies in India, but none have any production lines in Assam or the rest of North East India.
The dialogue saw active participation from the region as well as a global audience including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Indonesia, Japan, Australia, and the US.