New Delhi moves fast on North-South transport corridor

The much-awaited International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) has moved a step closer to reality, with New Delhi, Tehran, Moscow and 10 other nations vetting a draft transit agreement.

It will provide the legal framework for moving freight on the ship-rail-road route linking India with Iran, Russia, Central Asia and Europe.

As the final deal between Tehran and E3+3 (US, Russia, China, UK, France and Germany) over Iran’s controversial nuclear programme raised prospects of early withdrawal of international sanctions imposed on the latter, India has moved fast to breathe fresh life into the INSTC project.

New Delhi recently hosted a meeting of the INSTC Coordination Council which was attended by, besides senior officials from India, Iran and Russia, representatives of most of the other member nations.

They discussed and agreed to take “several practical steps on issues related to logistics and infrastructure necessary for making the proposed transport corridor operational”, a senior government official told Deccan Herald.

A draft of the proposed transit agreement was also circulated among all the member nations for vetting, said the official. The INSTC transit agreement will provide the legal framework necessary for addressing logistical issues and facilitate smooth movement of freight through the corridor.

New Delhi, Moscow and Tehran had jointly conceived the INSTC in September 2000 as a multi-modal transportation corridor, which would link India Ocean and Persian Gulf with the Caspian Sea through Iran and move onward to North Europe via Russia.

Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Oman, Armenia, Syria, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan joined the ambitious project later.

Bulgaria joined the bloc as an observer. The last 15 years, however, saw very little progress on the ground, primarily due to international sanctions on Iran–a key link in the proposed corridor. The breakthrough in Iran’s negotiations with the E3+3 in April and inking of the final deal in July prompted New Delhi to work with Moscow and Tehran to give fresh impetus to the ambitious project.

The Ministry of Commerce and Industry, in partnership with the Federation of Freight Forwarders’ Associations in India (FFFAI), hosted the INSTC stakeholders’ conference in Mumbai in June.

Besides traders and freight forwarders, representatives of banks and insurance firms, shipping companies, port and railways from most of the INSTC nations took part in the conference.

Speaking at the INSTC Coordination Council’s meet hosted by the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi recently, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar mooted a proposal for having an inter-country agency working commercially for making the corridor operational.
The INSTC will provide India a route to transport goods at cheaper costs to markets in Russia, Central Asia and Europe, bypassing Pakistan.

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