Guwahati, Aug 26 (IANS) Thailand is making a serious bid to expand its trade and cultural ties with India by doing business in the northeast in areas such as handicrafts, tourism, and food processing, Thai officials said here.
'We have come here to explore possibilities of setting up businesses in the northeast in general and Assam in particular in some special focus areas,' Thawatchai Sophastienphong, inspector general of Thailand's ministry of commerce, told journalists.
The visiting Thai officials met leading entrepreneurs and Assam government authorities to work out modalities for setting up businesses in the state.
'We are willing to open a trade centre in Assam to boost bilateral business,' the Thai official said.
'Thailand and India's northeast have some similarities in terms of age-old cultural links and hence this region is attracting us.'
The volume of trade between India and Thailand was pegged at $2.8 billion last year.
'The Thai delegation has shown interest in investing in sectors like agriculture, infrastructure development, tourism, handicrafts, food processing and other allied fields,' Assam Industry and Commerce Minister Pradyut Bordoloi told IANS.
Sophastienphong stressed on the need for bilateral exchange programmes involving both government and trade delegations so that the two sides are able to pinpoint special focus areas for investments which could benefit both the countries in the long run.
'It is very important to have people-to-people contact by way of bilateral exchange programmes,' the Thai official said.
A private Thai airline operator recently proposed converting the northeastern region as an Asian Safari circuit and evinced interest to set up an airport, build resorts, and other tourism infrastructure in Assam.
'Bangkok Airways is interested to build an airport near the Kaziranga National Park and other facilities to make Assam as an Asian Safari zone,' Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had said recently.
Bangkok Airways president Prasert Prasarthong-Osoth urged the Assam government to grant them land to set up the airport and other infrastructure facilities to make the region one of Asia's tourism hotspots.
Prasarthong-Osoth and several of his colleagues visited Assam last year for an on-the-spot assessment for investments in the tourism sector.
The Assam government on its part pledged to boost tourism as an industry with the state having immense potential to attract visitors. 'If we can develop and market the untapped tourism sector, not only would we get revenue but it would generate employment opportunities for thousands of locals,' the chief minister said.
At present, tourists flock to the internationally famed 430-sq-km-Kaziranga National Park in eastern Assam - home to the largest concentration of the one-horned rhinos.
'These are some of the untapped tourism destinations and the Asian Safari plan could turn Assam into a potential tourism hub in the near future,' the chief minister said.