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PM`s Thai visit to elevate ties into `strategic partnership`

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives in Thailand on Thursday on a day`s visit to reinforce India`s "Look East" policy.

Bangkok: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrives here on Thursday on a day`s visit to reinforce India`s "Look East" policy, recognising Thailand as a key gateway to the ASEAN region and seeking to elevate bilateral ties into a "strategic partnership".

Ahead of Singh`s visit, the Thai Foreign Ministry said the bilateral meeting "reflects the desire of the two sides to elevate Thai-Indian relations to a strategic partnership, as announced in January last year."

Frequent exchanges of high-level bilateral visits reflect the closer relations between the two nations as well as the `Look West` policy of Thailand and `Look East` policy of India respectively, it said in a statement.

During the visit, a slew of MoUs covering space, extradition, IT, education, financial intelligence units to check money laundering are expected to be inked.

Besides, issues like geo-politics, the trilateral highway project involving India, Thailand and Myanmar, defence, science and technology, education and culture, will be discussed by Singh with his Thai counterpart Yingluck Shinawatra.

Singh`s visit here will be first time by an Indian premier after the 2004 visit by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Commenting on Singh`s trip, Indian Ambassador to Thailand Anil Wadhwa said, "Thailand is keenly looking forward to this visit."

"The trilateral highway which will connect India`s northeast region with Thailand via Myanmar by 2016 is expected to be a game changer as far as flow of goods, investment and services is concerned. The increased people to people contacts are expected to provide a much needed boost to demand and productivity, thereby improving the lives of millions of people in all three countries," Wadhwa said on Wednesday.

The 3,200-km trilateral highway will link India with Thailand through Myanmar. The road network will connect Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in Thailand through Bagan in Myanmar.

With the highway in place, India`s Northeast will become a gateway into ASEAN and vice versa.

Besides the highway project, Thailand`s ambitious Dawei deep sea port project will be also on the talks menu of the two leaders.

Dawei is about 300-KM from Chennai port and could serve as an entry point for India`s growing trade with ASEAN. The Dawei corridor will also include an industrial estate, power plants and petroleum. Thailand is keen to get investors to develop the mega Dawei project.

The much awaited India-Thailand FTA, however, will not be inked during the trip.

"The two sides are really not very far from concluding a comprehensive FTA which will be meaningful and mutually beneficial for the two countries," Wadhwa said.

"Thailand is best poised in south east Asia to become India`s gateway to the entire region. The comprehensive FTA will enhance and hasten the process of the two countries coming ever closer together on the basis of a centuries old trading and cultural relationship," he added.

Singh will be here tomorrow on his way back from Japan.

Yingluck has already visited India twice once as Chief guest at the Republic Day last year and later for the ASEAN India commemorative summit to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the India Asean dialogue last December.

A strong joint statement covering the fast growing ties will also be issued at the end of the visit.

Bilateral trade has multiplied six times since 2002 to reach USD 8.68 billion in 2012 and is expected to touch USD 14 billion by 2014.

Thailand is India`s major trading partner in the ASEAN. Thailand has invested USD 103.61 million in India (April 2000-December 2012) mainly in infrastructure, real estate, food processing sectors, hotels, hospitality sector, Electronics and Automotive components sector.

Indian FDI into Thailand is around USD two billion since 1970s. Indian investments worth USD 200 million were approved in 2012.

Major Indian investments were in Agricultural products, Minerals and Ceramics, light industry, metal processing, electronics and electricals, chemical, plastic and paper and service and infrastructure.


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