S. P. GOENKA
The Indo-China region, with which we enjoy a long historic and cultural affinity, could be the obvious choice
India is an emerging economy with a population of more than 1.2 billion, 3,287,263 sq km of land and the second fastest growing economy in the world despite the global economic slowdown. While it is encouraging on one side, on the flip side, the growth rate in agriculture is struggling to keep pace with the inflation rate and a growing population. Thrown in also is inadequate infrastructure, power and a less than friendly atmosphere for attracting foreign direct investment in key sectors.
A coherent policy for not only managing the short-term requirements but also the medium and long-term needs is essential. The prices of essential commodities have increased sharply to an unprecedented 35-year-high. We need a vibrant and transparent PDS for insulating the poorer sections of society from the ill effects of the price rise when more and more such commodities will be sold in the open market.
The government needs to come up with policies that look beyond its borders and away from traditional business partners to take care of the problems of food, energy and security and a growing population. A solution could be transfer of techniques and manpower for cultivation of land of friendly neighbours taken on long-term lease with a provision that after meeting the local needs, the surplus could be exported to India. This has a two-fold benefit-work for our agricultural labour and food for the growing population.
The Indo-China region, namely, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos PDR and Vietnam with which we enjoy a long and historic cultural affinity, could be the obvious choice.
The Mekong region though rich in natural resources has not been able to make much progress essentially because of lack of coordinated efforts and availability of the support of a friendly neighbour. Laos has two million hectares set aside for rice, but only 900,000 hectares are actually under the crop. Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos are three main countries in the region looking for positive and meaningful cooperation from India in eliminating poverty and enhancing multilateral trade among them and India.
Under the new trade policy, India is looking for new destinations for investment and the prospects that Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos offer as strategic commerce and trade locations cannot be ignored. Bilateral trade between Vietnam and India has increased rapidly since the liberalisation of both economies and cooperation has extended in IT, education and national space programmes.
Agreements signed earlier between the governments of India and Cambodia have to be implemented fully to boost the economy of both countries. India must now make its presence felt in the Mekong region and must capitalise on the goodwill acquired over the years. Unlike the Asian countries like China and Japan, India has striking similarities with the Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotian including, but, not limited to, its various cultural and emotional ethos. Politically, India empathised with Vietnam during its difficult times.
The Indian missions in these countries should be given the liberty to commit investments and transfer of technologies in fields like agriculture, energy, etc, while India can get for itself committed quantities of agricultural products at committed prices. This concept can be used for other industries and sectors as well. le Soft loans and grants as done by the U.S., Japan and some European economies could be adopted by the Indian government as well. Pressure on the economy caused by the rising prices of non-renewable energy resources can only be offset by investment in renewable energy resources.
Investment in agro-industries can ease the pressure of the demands of growing population by synergising the natural resources available in the Indo-China region with the superior technology and manpower resources available in India. Actions have to be initiated to ensure that the growing population is able to reap demographic advantage and also the country’s growth is not constrained by scarcity of internal natural resources. Further, India will also have a stake in invaluable natural resources for development of the region.