The India-West Asia-Europe Corridor opens up huge opportunities, but it shouldn’t remain just on paper

THE PROSPECT OF building mega cross-country infrastructure that would help boost India’s merchandise trade sounds exciting. The proposed India-West Asia-Europe Corridor is an ambitious move that will enhance India’s connectivity with several regions via an alternate route. Indeed, India has been frustrated at Pakistan’s refusal to permit access by land and has been unable to find a way to ship goods via Iran to the Eurasian territory. The alternative transport and energy route, announced at the recently-concluded G20 summit in New Delhi, is thus a path-breaking endeavour which could yield a very high return on invest- ment.Forglobal producers looking to adopt a China-plus-one strategy, con- nectivity between the Indo-Pacific region and the Mediterranean, would enhance India’s appeal as a manufacturing hub.

The twin lanes of the proposed multi-nodal corridor-the eastern one and the northern one-will be designed to provide a cost-effective ship-and-rail transit network between Asia, West Asia and Europe. The eastern lane will connect India with the Arabian Gulf while the northern one will link the Ara- bian Gulf with Europe. While the ship-to-rail transit network will form the main plank of the infrastructure, a cable for energy and digital connectivity, as well as a pipe for clean hydrogen export, along the railway track is also part of the blueprint. The corridor would serve as an alternative to the Suez Canal which seems to be over-loaded and is disrupting supply chains.

The fact that so many nations-the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, EU, France, Italy, Germany and India-came together so quickly to forge a partnership suggests there is unanimity and urgency on the need for the alternate infra- structure. The US, experts point out, will see this as a way to win back lost bargaining power for energy prices in West Asia and also in the Indo-Pacific where China has an edge as it is part of the Regional Comprehensive Eco- nomic Partnership, the world’s biggest trading bloc. For the European nations, the new corridor signals the intent to reduce their dependence on Russian energy and import more from the Persian Gulf area. As is known, some of the crude oil is processed in India and then re-exported.

Indeed, the genesis of this economic pathway probably lies in nations wanting to thwart China’s attempts to assert its supremacy over Central Asia and other regions on the BRI route. While the member-nations may be polit- ically committed to the project, the MoU does not create any rights or oblig- ations under international law, implying they are not necessarily bound by it. However, some degree of commitment is called for because the venture is an ambitious one, costing, by one estimate a whopping $20 billion. What’s encouraging is that there seems to be no attempt at one-upmanship as the project will be funded by several participants. This places it in sharp contrast to the BRI which is being bankrolled by China and has attracted accusations of that country lulling members into a debt trap. Italian prime minister Geor gia Meloni has hinted her country might get off the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), or the Silk Road, an indication of how some members of the China-led infrastructure plan have misgivings about the venture. However, building thealternative route will not be easy. While members, especially the US, sound enthusiastic about IMEC, they will need to be determined in their efforts so that the grand plan doesn’t remain only on paper.

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