Pointing to the lack of efficient overland connectivity between India and the Central Asian countries, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar on Thursday said that the two regions should examine the viability of establishing air corridors between them to boost trade and economic engagement.
He added that India plans to overcome this lack of overland connectivity by using the route passing through the Chabahar Port in Iran.
"Clearly, a great potential exists in enhancing trade and economic engagement between India and Central Asia. There is the challenge of lack of efficient overland connectivity. India proposes to overcome this challenge through the Chabahar route," Mr Jaishankar said in his speech at the India-Central Asia Business Council at the industry body Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).
India, Iran and Afghanistan believe that Chabahar will become the fulcrum of connectivity for Indian goods to reach Afghanistan and further north to the Central Asian states, he said.
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are part of the Central Asia. In the budget presented last week, the government allocated Rs 100 crore for the Chabahar Port for the fiscal 2020-21.
"It shows India's commitment towards the development of Chabahar and our determination to develop it as a viable connectivity option," Mr Jaishankar said.
The minister said "we should also examine the viability of establishing air corridors between India and the Central Asian states".
While flying time from Delhi for most of the Central Asian destinations is two hours, it may take two months for containers sent overland from India to reach these places, he added.
"Availability of air corridors can boost trade in perishable goods, agricultural and food products. I would encourage FICCI to take lead in bringing together stakeholders and conduct a brainstorming session to examine this," he suggested.
Tourism and higher education are also the sectors that have tremendous potential for collaboration between India and the Central Asian countries, the minister said.
"Indian tourist traffic to destinations like Almaty and Samarkand has been increasing. Tourism industry should come up with attractive and affordable packages for increase of tourist traffic between India and the Central Asia," he stated.
Medical tourism to India from the Central Asia has a great demand and Indian healthcare industry should endeavour to meet it better so that each visiting patient goes back fully satisfied, Jaishankar said.
"In the field of education, a good beginning has been made with the opening of Indian private universities in Uzbekistan. We should also try to attract students from the Central Asia to our higher educational institutions by offering quality and affordable education in various technical and non-technical fields," he noted.