The Straits Times says

India's new reach across waters for trade

As trade volumes go, the 60 tonnes of coconuts exported last month by Indonesia's Sumatra province to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India were but a small drop in the ocean of global trade. But coming in the wake of the sending of samples of eggs and curry noodles from Aceh a few weeks earlier, it could prove to be one giant leap in the common destinies of India and Asean, if not the wider Asian region. Priced at a fraction of what it would cost to import the produce from Chennai - at 1,300km away, the mainland Indian city closest to the Andaman and Nicobar capital, Port Blair - the shipment underscores the reality that ultimately, geography can be destiny if geostrategic barriers can be lowered or removed.

Occupied by Japanese forces during World War II - not unlike large parts of South-east Asia, including Singapore - the Andaman and Nicobars are not only India's southernmost tip but also give the South Asian giant a foothold in South-east Asia, being about 150km from Sumatra at the nearest point. However, with no direct air links to any place except the Indian mainland, the pristine islands, some of them inhabited by prehistoric tribes, were hidden away from not only South-east Asia but also Indian consciousness. It is a rare Indian prime minister - Mr Narendra Modi is an exception - who has seen the strategic value of the islands. Of late, though, this has been changing, and swiftly. In May last year, Mr Modi and Indonesian President Joko Widodo agreed to promote trade, tourism and people-to-people contacts and set up the means for that to happen.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2019, with the headline 'India's new reach across waters for trade'. Print Edition | Subscribe