India-Myanmar Relations

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  • Niras asked: It was recently stated that India-Myanmar border trade would be upgraded to normal trade. What is the difference?

    Udai Bhanu Singh replies: Trade on the Indo-Myanmar border was traditionally conducted on an informal basis and was quite negligible compared to the normal trade. Trading in traditional goods on head load basis and through barter was the usual practice. A legal basis was accorded to the customary trade when India and Myanmar signed a border trade agreement in 1994. Land Customs Station (LCS) at Moreh was the first trading-point to be operationalised on the Indo-Myanmar border in 1995. The second one is the Zowkhathar-Rhi LCS. A third LCS is expected to be opened up at Avakhung-Pansat/Somrai.

    Border trade constitutes only a fraction of the bilateral trade. Enhanced border trade is considered as critical for the development of India’s North-eastern Region (NER). India has a long land border (over 1600 km) with Myanmar, but the border trade remains minimal. In 2010-11, the border trade was only $12.8 million whereas the bilateral trade was $1070 million. Indian exports included cotton yarn, auto parts, soya bean meal and pharmaceuticals while India’s imports included betel nuts, dried ginger, green moong beans, turmeric roots, resin and medicinal herbs. Currently, on the India-Myanmar border, trade at a concessional rate of duty (5 per cent ad valorem) and in certain conditions is permitted for 62 tradable items (effective since December 2012 following DGFT notification) through the LCSs at Moreh (Manipur) and Zowkhathar (Mizoram) as per the Department of Commerce notifications.

    The problem lies in the smuggling of items like fertilizers, vehicles especially two wheelers, etc. This illegal transaction on the border gives border trade a bad name while bringing little or no benefit to the communities living on either sides of the border. In addition, the NER is landlocked, and despite its vast natural and human resource, the people of the region cannot have a share in the maritime trade. To the extent the increase in maritime trade does not stimulate the economic growth in the NER (and ignores and even breaks traditional trade links), it perpetuates the perception that the benefits of the ‘Look East Policy’ is bypassing the NER as 98 per cent of the trade is conducted through ports. Thus, promotion of ‘cross border growth poles’ or ‘growth triangles’ is suggested, besides systematic sociological, anthropological and political analyses of the systems in the two countries.

    Normal trade is also permitted through the LCSs. The 3rd India-Myanmar Joint Trade Committee (2008) decided that border trade would be upgraded to normal trade, which refers to the trade between two countries that is subject to payment of custom duties applicable on international trade with any other country of the world. According to the Northeast Vision 2020, “opening up trade routes will expand economic opportunities for the region and accelerate its growth process.” There is great potential in the revival of international commerce through road, river (Kaladan) and railways; and, connecting to Chittagong and Kolkata besides Sittwe (to Dawei and beyond in Indochina). It can boost the economy of the north eastern states which could bring back some of the glory of yesteryears when the land-based silk route flourished. Among the 13 Integrated Check Posts (ICPs) being set up in NER, one is at Moreh in Manipur. The objective of ICP is to provide integrated infrastructure (including immigration, customs, and border security with support facilities like warehousing, banking and hotels) and to interdict elements hostile to the country in order to facilitate legitimate trade and commerce.

    For more details, refer to the following IDSA publication:

    Udai Bhanu Singh and Shruti Pandalai, “Myanmar: The Need for Infrastructure Integration” in Rumel Dahiya and Ashok K. Behuria (eds.), India’s Neighbourhood: Challenges in the Next two Decades, Pentagon Security International, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 110-136.

    Assessing the Bodh Gaya Terror Attack

    With increased cross-border mobility, instantaneous access to information and easy reach to small arms, terror attacks in India are finding new targets.

    July 25, 2013

    Akash Pratap asked: What is the role of Myanmar in India’s “Look East Policy”?

    Reply: Refer to an earlier reply by Udai Bhanu Singh on a similar query, at

    Also, refer to following publications by the IDSA faculty:

    Myanmar’s Critical Role in Bolstering India’s Look East Policy
    Arvind Gupta, February 2, 2012, at

    An Assessment of Manmohan Singh’s Visit to Myanmar
    Udai Bhanu Singh, IDSA Issue Brief, June 1, 2012, at

    The Significance of Connectivity in India-Myanmar Relations
    Shristi Pukhrem, July 6, 2012, at

    Southeast Asia-India Defence Relations in the Changing Regional Security Landscape
    Bilveer Singh, IDSA Monograph Series No. 4, 2011, at

    Cooperation Between Indian and Myanmar Armed Forces: Need to Move Away from a Weapons & Equipment Supply-Based Relationship

    While India has supplied arms and equipment quite selectively to Myanmar, the outcome, which was expected to serve India’s interests, has not been commensurate.

    January 15, 2013

    Mahendra Pande asked: What are the actual reasons for ethnic violence in Myanmar? What active role could India play in it?

    Udai Bhanu Singh replies: Ethnic conflict is one of Myanmar’s biggest challenges. It makes the task of national reconciliation tougher. Myanmar is a multi-ethnic country composed of seven ethnically designated states and regions (with Bamar or Burman majority) referred to in the colonial period as ’Frontier’ Burma and ’Ministerial’ Burma. The Burmans (mostly Buddhist), who are 68 per cent of the total population, form the majority. The other ethnic groups are the Shans, the Karens, the Rakhines, the Kachins, Chins, Was, Palaungs, the Nagas, etc.

    The British effectively put the country on a path of separate economic and political development when it divided it into ‘Ministerial Burma’ (dominated by the Burmans and directly governed) and ’Outer Burma’ (dominated by the minorities and allowed a measure of autonomy). The British policy of preferring minorities in their recruitment to the army and civil administration saw a reaction in the post-independence period of military rule. The 2008 Constitution provided for six Self-Administered Zone/Division: Naga, Danu, Pa-O, Pa Laung, Kokang and Wa respectively. Following the 2010 general elections, demands for a second Panglong Conference were raised. However, the statelessness of Rohingya Muslims contributed to the violence and refugee flow seen in the recent past.

    India, on its part, desires stability in its neighbourhood and especially because of the common ethnic population on either side of the India-Myanmar border. India seeks to contribute to ethnic peace in Myanmar through improved economic condition, greater connectivity, emphasis on community based development with emphasis on health and education sector. In all this besides the government, the private sector and NGOs are required to be important stakeholders.

    The Persecuted Rohingyas of Myanmar: Need for Political Accommodation and India`s Role

    While India is not immediately affected by the Rohingya refugee migration from Myanmar, it cannot be oblivious to the regional dimensions of such human migrations based on ethnic discontent.

    August 13, 2012

    The Significance of Connectivity in India-Myanmar Relations

    With better connectivity and implementation of various development projects, the Asian Highway would enable the North-East region to become a business hub of South Asia.

    July 06, 2012

    Mahendra Pande asked: Why Myanmar in recent years has become a key strategic partner for India, although during 80s and 90s India was very aloof about it?

    Udai Bhanu Singh replies: It is perhaps not apt to say that India had been aloof about Myanmar in the 1980s and 1990s. India has been finessing its policy vis-à-vis this geo-strategically significant ASEAN country. Our common experience of struggle against colonialism was carried over into the post-independence period as well. Then, as the realpolitik requirements of statecraft hit us, the sentimentalism of the freedom struggle era was shed (around 1993) in preference for a more pragmatic approach of dealing with the regime in power. Even then it must not be construed as an abandonment of India's principles (which include faith in democracy). However, whatever political system Myanmar obtains is entirely a matter of choice of its own people. As the transition to democracy began, India too came out in support of the process in Myanmar because it considers it a key strategic neighbour.

    An Assessment of Manmohan Singh’s Visit to Myanmar

    Political change in Myanmar is palpable and a sensitive and proactive approach is required to prevent the initiative slipping from India’s hands.

    June 01, 2012