Growing political instability in Myanmar and financial issues have stymied the progress of the Trilateral Highway project
It aims to connect India's Northeast region with Thailand via Myanmar, facilitating trade and commerce, health, education, and tourism between the three nations while providing a more efficient and cost-effective transportation route.Since its conception in 2002, the Trilateral Highway project has faced various delays and challenges, including political instability in Myanmar and financial issues. Nonetheless, recent years have seen progress, with several stretches of the highway being completed or nearing completion. The project aims to establish an essential strategic route, but earlier targets for its operationalisation have been delayed. Initially, the government sought to make the highway operational by 2015 and then extended the timeline till 2019. Now, the new deadline is set for 2027. It is, thus, crucial to closely assess the current situation on the ground to gauge the progress of this delayed project. The IMT-TH project follows a proposed plan that starts from Bangkok and passes through cities like Sukhothai and Mae Sot in Thailand, and Yangon, Mandalay, Kalewa, and Tamu in Myanmar before reaching India. In India, it is likely to pass through Moreh, Kohima, Guwahati, Srirampur, Siliguri, and Kolkata, ning over 2,800 km. The longest stretch of the highway will be in India, while the most minor road section will be in Thailand. Thailand's Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vijavat Isarabhakdi, stated in a recent interview that most of the project's work in Thailand is over. The Indian counterpart also mentioned that around 70 percent of the work is complete. Upon being approached, Aung Naing Oo, Myanmar's Trade Minister, revealed that most of the highway was constructed, ning 1,512 km. The contractors will complete the remaining sections within three years.
The longest stretch of the highway will be in India, while the most minor road section will be in Thailand.
The Trade Minister of Myanmar has indicated that converting a 121.8-km portion of the road, specifically between Kalewa and Yar Gyi, into a four-lane motorway will require more time than anticipated.Additionally, significant security issues persist in Myanmar. The Chin State and Sagaing Region, where the majority of the work is ongoing, are engulfed in conflict between the Junta and the ethnic armed groups. If the conditions do not subside, the resumption of work by contractors seems improbable. Another aspect that needs immediate attention is formulating and implementing the IMT Trilateral Motor Vehicle Agreement (IMT-TMVA). While the Indian government conducted the IMT-TH Friendship Car Rally in 2016 to sensitise stakeholders to the potential benefits of a motor vehicles agreement (MVA) between the three countries, not much has occurred. There are several reasons for this; one of the biggest challenges to implementing the IMT-TMVA is the need for more infrastructure, particularly in Myanmar. The country has limited road networks and poor connectivity, which makes it difficult for vehicles to move smoothly between India, Myanmar, and Thailand. Bureaucratic hurdles continue to remain a significant bottleneck, where obtaining permits and clearances remains challenging due to differences in the rules and procedures of vehicle movement in each nation making the situation time-consuming and cumbersome. This will be particularly challenging for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which may need more resources to navigate complex regulatory frameworks. Additionally, the security situation in Myanmar is also a significant concern for the implementation of the IMT-TMVA. The country has faced political instability and conflict in recent years, which has affected road transport safety. There have been reports of attacks on vehicles and disruption of transport routes, which can be a significant risk for businesses and travellers. This has led to concerns about the safety of drivers and passengers, which may impact the viability of any agreement.
Adequate financing and resource allocation will play a vital role in overcoming these challenges and realising the full potential of this transformative regional initiative.
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Sreeparna Banerjee is a Junior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation Kolkata with the Strategic Studies Programme.Read More +