India and Sub Himalayan Eastern Neighbours: Shared Borders, Shared opportunities: “Transforming Geo Spaces to Celebrating Ideas, Skills, and People.”

Date:   Thu Aug 16, 2018 - Fri Aug 17, 2018 , Contact:   info@asianconfluence.org
Location:   Asian Confluence Center , Hosts:   Asian Confluence

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India’s Eastern and North Eastern states along with immediate four eastern neighbors, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and Myanmar, together comprise a geographically compact region in Eastern South Asia, connecting South and South East Asia. Since time immemorial, peoples, ideas and skills have travelled within the region,given the historical, cultural and commercial ties and also given the natural complimentarities that the plains and the hills have. In the last few decades however, political borders that demarcate the various nation states of the region have impeded this natural and historical flow. So much so that this region has come to be acknowledged widely to be the least integrated in terms of economic coordination and modern physical connectivity.
 
In more recent times however, emerging regional transport and economic corridors under evolving bilateral agreements, as well as multilateral frameworks such as BBIN and BIMSTEC promiseto provide greater impetus for increasing economic linkages within the region. Also, higher political will for better bilateral and at times, multilateral trade and connectivity ties has created an enabling environment for furthering this agenda.Factors such as climate change concerns and present geopolitics in the region and beyond also emphasise the need for higher integration among thenation states. Given this backdrop, completing and implementing the planned connectivity infrastructure facilitatingcross border flow of goods people and money,sustainable development of border regions, creation of transboundary agriculture value chains, development of special regional trading and tourism loops and hubs at or close to border regions can go a long way in ensuring livelihood of communities on both sides and usher in shared regional prosperity and lead to peace dividends.
The seminar in roundtable format will be a platform to discuss the emerging insights from an ongoing study being conducted by the Asian Confluence in collaboration with the Asia Foundation which focuses on ways and means to connect the border states and regions through interconnectedness of goods, services and people. The study has identified three main pillars on which further discussions, deep-diving and interventions could be explored. They are Tourism, creation of Agri-horti value chains and enabling of sub-regional Trade- Tourism-Transit hubs. The roundtable hopes to share initial insights and ideas on these three pillars so as to invite inputs, critique and suggestions through discussions. The idea is to come up with time-bound action agenda for each pillar and prioritise them based on opportunities, challenges and concerns as identified through discussions and deliberations on actionable for each pillar. The two day roundtable discussion will focus on some of the following pillars:
 
1. Tourism for better sub-regional integration, economic and peace dividends: Focus on developing a sub-regional Hub and Border Tourism:
The entire region has immense possibilities on tourism being home to some of the most breathtaking natural terrains, the mighty Himalayas, extremely rich and diverse culture and biodiversity, substantial forests covers and a lot more. Also historical movement of people along the corridors in the region has always been high, for trade, pilgrimage and spiritual interests. In recent times, there is substantial movement for health tourism and education purposes, other than those already mentioned above. There already are existing routes for Nepal-India-Bhutan circuits of tourism with Siliguri as the fulcrum. Further facilitation of these corridors with Siliguri as the sub-regional Hub and destinations in North Eastern states of India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar as spokes can lead to substantial gains for livelihoods, foreign exchange earnings and also preservation of biodiversity, forest covers culture and peace.
Tourism development at the border regions could develop a new product of border tourism in the industry. The border regions have immense potential to converge service industries in tourism (such as agri-tourism , community tourism, history trails , adventure tourism, viewing border protocols) along with agro trade and Asian Confluence being the facilitator for creating a cross border network loop of tourism and hospitality operators to facilitate the tours. The under discussion BIN visa or travel permit will be the main precursor for such a momentum for people’s mobility. Also, the recently signed Land Border Crossing Agreement between India and Myanmar will facilitate movement through land border between the two countries, which used to be more restrictive earlier.The roundtable will look at the present status, possibilities, gaps and concerns to come up with a time-bound Action agenda for tourism development with an aim to lead to higher economic and peace dividends as well as people-to-people connect. A cross-cutting issue that will also be consideredis to examine how such sub-regional tourism initiatives can be made more gender inclusive and promote higher participation and gains by women.
 
2. Creation of Integrated and Climate-smart and gender-inclusive Agri-horti value chains:
Recognising synergy between contiguous and yet diverse terrain and geographical conditions that offer a lot of complimentarities,the roundtable will bring forward the possibility of creating an integrated and climate-smart agro-horti loop involving the nation states of the sub-region. The existing complimentaritiesamong the nation states in terms of of agri-horti produce among the nation states in the sub-region stems from the diverse geographical and climatic terrains of the sub-region. For example, produce from two sides of the India-Bangladesh border, particularly for the North Eastern states of India and Northern districts of Bangladeshmakes a strong case for exchange and consolidation. While some of the produce is same on both sides of the border a lot of them are unique to either sides given the predominately hilly terrain of the North Eastern states and Bangladesh being predominately plains. Historically this meant a lot of trade between the different terrains given the uniqueness of the produce between the diverse geographies and also increasing cultural and trade ties between people. An interesting angle to this is probably the need to look at natural and hence,in many ways, the climatic advantage that each geography wields in terms of producing specific and unique crops. For e.g. Meghalaya, Mizoram in India has unique varities of spices including turmeric and ginger that are not usually cultivable in the plains and similarly, Bangladesh plains have crops such as cereals and pulses and some vegetables that cannot be cultivable in the hilly terrains of North East India without such cultivation being highly resource and energy intensive. Similarly a wide variety of the seasonal fruits are more readily harvested in the hills rather than in the plains. While modern agricultural technology and innovation has created possibilities to cultivate all different kinds of crops and produce across a diverse geography, such practices may not always be climate friendly and may not always make economic sense either. More importantly, given the natural complementarities of the diverse geography in this sub-region, the nation states stand to gain if they invest in agriculture that is aligned more with natural advantages and hence make climate and economic sense. It may be pertinent to mention here that the quantum of produce in each territory (nation state) or terrain for some of the subsistence crops is not sufficient or seasonal in nature that highlights the need for exchange, integration and storage. In terms of the economics, beyondthe need to meet domestic consumption requirements,integration of the local value chains into sub-regional value chains with a diverse basket of produce that is exchanged in amore systematic, consolidated and organised manner with possible value additionswill help consolidate and integrate the sub-regional agri-horti market and in due time, develop a larger export market, leading to higher dividends for producers on all sides of the borders.
With this backdrop, the roundtable will aim to discuss the idea ofcreatingagri-horti loops in the sub-region that can align with natural advantages, be gender inclusive and climate smart in terms of choice of crops, terrain, processing, logistics of the supply-chains, etc. The idea will be to look at traditionally and highly traded agri- horti products and also potential and unique items from the sub-region to come up with a concrete action plan on which products and chains to prioritise and also identify further deep diving that will be needed to understand how to leverage existing trading practices, core competence, technology and also balance gender inclusion and climate change concerns. The roundtablewill aim to deliberate on
howthe exchange in sub-regional produce can be made more systematic, consolidated and organised in a climate friendly manner with possible value additions that can cater to the livelihood needs of producers on both sides of the borders, while leading to consumer gains at the same time.
 
3. Exploring Special Trading Hubs:
In continuation and addition to the deliberation on consolidating the sub-regional agri-horti value chains,this ongoing study also tries to identify a common market hub with a view to leverage existing and upcoming connectivity infrastructureas also emerging bilateral and multilateral frameworks like the BBIN and BIMSTEC. Given the scope of this study, this discussion focuses on a common trading corridor for India, Bangladesh and Nepal. However, there are substantial possibilities to include Myanmar in the scenario for furthering the work already undertaken. The formal trade between the three nations at present consists mainly of boulders and some limited agri-horti products. Alongside Bangladesh Bhutan India Nepal (BBIN)cross- border movement,the development of a hub will not only tap into the subregional initiative that all these states are engaging in but also provide a direct market to consumers retailers and others that can access this facility. Post the (BBIN) route trials (presently without Bhutan)a proximate zone on the route canbe designated as trading zone with pre-decided goods and products, which will invariably spin off into larger momentum with increasingly improved transport systems.Siliguri being at the junction of trading corridors of all BBIN countries has a lot of promise as a sub- regional trading hub. It is already functioning as a major meeting point for cargo, people and business from all four BBIN countries being conveniently located close to multiple border crossing points between India and its four negihbours, viz. Changrabandha and Phulbari with Bangladesh, Jaigaon with Bhutan, Panitankiand Jogbaniwith Nepal. All the above mentioned border points are designated as Land Custom Stations of high bilateral importance jointly by customs in India and its neighbouring countries. Also, four out of the five ports are to be developed as Integrated Check Posts in the near future. Also given upcoming physical connectivity projects, Siliguri, situated on the ‘chicken-neck’ at the junction of corridors from all four countries, poses as a highly potential location as a sub-regional trade hub.
 
Given this, the roundtable will deliberate on the opportunities challenges, gaps and concerns to develop a sub-regional trading hub (possibly at Siliguri, West Benngal, India) and come up with an action plan and advocacy agenda with stakeholder mapping for the same. This envisaged outcome will be informed by and be aligned to the outcome form the discussions on sub-regional agri-horti value chains.
 
4. The Larger Strategic Backdrop: Ideation Exercise and Way Forward
Finally the group will take up innovative ideation exercises to examine the possibilities of moving to a paradigm of border security that is based on collaboration through information sharing, institutional linkages and infrastructure facilitation, ensuring physicaland economic security of the communities that inhabit the region.

 



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