By Chingakham Dina, Arambam Karamjit, Khwairakpam Sunita
Manipur’s international business has been left without much progress in this global economy era. Things will change quickly when Manipur is connected to ASEAN nations but we will not get much if our government doesn’t take up proactive action plan. We have historical connection of border business with Myanmar. This border business of Manipur is minor thing when we compared with the border trades between the neighboring countries in ASEAN countries. But in the near future, business is going to move fast in Myanmar. Dawei Deep Sea Port and Special Economic Zone in Myanmar is under construction currently. This port is going to be the biggest in the whole Southeast Asia. Seeing the business opportunities, Thailand and Japan invest huge amount of money in Myanmar for the construction of Dawei Deep Sea Port.
Cross-border business in ASEAN countries
From Thailand, there is a road link through a Thai-Myanmar friendship bridge constructed in 1997 across Moei River in Mae Sot district of Tak province in Thailand and Myawadi in Burma side. This connecting bridge is on transnational Asian Highway AH1, which will link to Manipur. Seeing the potential benefits of business, Thailand invests huge amount of money in Dawei project and also a new second Thai-Myanmar friendship bridge has started construction work across the same river- Moei River, to be finished in 2017. The construction cost is taken care by Thai government for the bridge and road construction. There is large volume of business items carrying through cross border between Thailand-Burma, Thailand-Laos, Thailand-Cambodia, Thailand-Malaysia, Cambodia-Vietnam etc. Comparing the magnitude of business volume across borders of ASEAN countries, the business between Manipur-Myanmar at Moreh town is at tiny scale.
Opportunities for Manipur
Generally speaking Manipuri people are not good at business. Business is not our traditional profession like Marwari or Punjabi. However, modern younger generation who have learned about export-import business should take chances without missing this golden opportunities. Local business will benefit from opening eastern corridor. Without well prepared, we will not able to take the potential benefits. There are many outsiders waiting to take that opportunities. Other Asian nationalities are coming to our border for business. As our general people are not quite ready as well as not good at business area, we need awareness and preparation. We need to take opportunities in another area such as supplying human resource.
Myanmar is just at our front door. But we don’t know what is going on in the cities of Myanmar and what opportunities are in that country. Filipino teachers already reached there to teach with handsome salary of $3000 US per month in international schools. All the information and recruitment services are carried out and handled from Thailand with local people in collaboration with western educators. Thailand has signed memorandum of understanding (MoU) to allow their citizens to work on both sides. With common economic platform opens up among ASEAN nations, people from southeast Asian countries can access easily to Myanmar from Thailand by road and flight. We have educated youths, potential candidates to be employed and to run business there. Without signing memorandum of understanding, you cannot access the opportunity and and the potential candidates cannot be employed in spite of human resources are available and we cannot do any business. Without legal papers, you are going direct to prison, so our government needs to workout in this area. Otherwise the silver lining of look east policy will be nothing to Manipur.
People are waiting for the time that road link opens up. Only the the problem of road link is from Manipur to Myanmar. Once crossing Myanmar, almost all the ASEAN countries are connected by land. There are many foreign tourists expecting for road trip to India by car or bus once the road is opened up properly. Everything is slow about the work progress from Manipur side. An opening of Imphal International airport, bus trip to Mandalay are just symbolic things, nothing practical work for now. We need to speed up work. People should be given awareness dealing with foreign tourists. Manipur needs to build public toilet, hygienic services such as foods and drinks at restaurant, hotel, to improve overall environment that looks garbage dumping ground in the Imphal areas, transportation and communication etc. There are some public toilets in the town areas, but water is not supplied properly in spite of taking money from users. Everything needs to be neat and clean for tourists attraction. Indians are famous for not having toilets, that shitting on open space is common practice. A bus stoppage on roadside and peeing in open place is common. Without comfortable level of services, and bad taste in the unstable situation of state, the effects of regional conflicts, daily basis bandh and strikes will discourage foreign tourists that would be source of our economy. Transport business will be another big thing for Manipur accessing market to Thailand, Myanmar, China and other ASEAN countries. Government and people need to help each other to improve quality of services, security and safety of tourists, otherwise no tourist will come to take risk their lives in the name of tourism and recreational activities in Manipur.
Officers’ unethical manners to harm business
The present situation of state machineries need to polish to change the manners of officers to work smoother. Delaying work, work ethic of Manipur people will discourage foreigners coming as tourist and do business. In Thailand, when vehicles move from Poipet-Aranyaprathet, the Thailand-Cambodia gate, the vehicles stop for about 1-5 minutes to check illegal migrants. From there, the bus will never stop any more for checking by security. You don’t expect to stop private cars. In a journey from Moreh to Imphal, there are a numbers of stoppages. This is not only stoppage but also collecting money from the bus. The same thing happens for a journey from Guwahati to Imphal with numerous checkpoints collecting money legally or illegally. Authorities need to do more work to lessen the uncomfortable given in the name of security. Stop collecting money at almost every check post. This nature hurts small border business. It will hurt more to foreign businessmen. Police van will stop by road side and collect 10 rupees, 20 rupees by lower ranking policemen telling for drinking tea by their superior. In the same way, VDF (Village Defence Force) are also doing this openly. The matter looks so ugly that a police officer shouldn’t be equate to the value of 20 rupees. It is going to be disclosing this ugly open secret of Manipur officers to foreigners very soon when the land road opens up and foreign tourists or businessmen arrive. Government should take care of these things to promote people to do more business comfortably. Those police officers looking for 20 rupees from public should be terminated from the post and send them to vocational re-training centres to change profession that could make more money if they are much after money. Officers’ sincere work is very much important to deal foreign clients in business.
Foreign language course
With fervor of common economic platform of ASEAN is high among ASEAN nations, foreign language learning of neighboring countries has already started in Thailand. They started teaching Burmese language in the schools a few years ago. In almost every school in Thailand, Chinese language is taught. English learning focusing on speaking and listening is compulsory for all schools in Thailand. They know that learning language of the countries where their business target, will benefit enormously. We heard there is Burmese learning centre in Manipur university. Language learning at adult stage is not easy task to pick up the language. Our foreign language learning is kind of collecting information and study the nature of language rather than practical use for communication such as Speaking and Listening; Reading and Writing. It is better to start language learning from lower level of schooling. If we know Burmese language, that will be much easier to do business in Myanmar. In the same way, we better to learn Thai or Chinese if we want to be more successful in business in Thailand or China instead of depending on English only. This realization has been quite earlier in Thailand, Cambodia and neighboring countries. We need to pick up this strategy sooner, otherwise foreigners will be dominating the business at our door rather than we deal business successfully with other countries when southeast Asian corridor opens.
For now, Manipur people are having difficulty to access good information for business and job opportunities in our neighboring countries. It is right time to prepare to take this golden opportunities coming ahead with better awareness among people as well as state government. Prepare and wait to grab business and job opportunities as soon as this corridor opens. Our state government should take right steps to get economic benefits from this Asian corridor awaiting to open in the near future.
Chingakham Dina- Working at Pathumwiali School, Pathumthani Thailand. Also taught in Cambodia / Can be reached at chingakham(at)yahoo(dot)com
Arambam Karamjit- Former Teacher SKN School, Nonthaburi, Thailand/Former Retail Outlet Manager, Hang Ten Co Ltd, Singapore / Can be reached at ronin9992008(at)gmail(dot)com
Khwairakpam Sunita- Former teacher at Pathumwilai School, Pathumthani Thailand / Can be reached at sunita.khwairakpam(at)yahoo(dot)com