New Delhi’s relationship with Myanmar had changed “extraordinarily” since President U Thein Sein’s government came to power in 2011, Indian ambassador Gautam Mukhopadhaya said on February 26.

In an exclusive interview with Mizzima, Mr Mukhopadhaya said the relationship was “easier” than it had been under the military government.

“Now we feel that we can have an open, honest full-fledged relationship,” Mr Mukhopadhaya said.

The lifting of economic sanctions by many countries had helped to remove India’s inhibitions about increasing bilateral trade, the ambassador said.

He was speaking ahead of the third meeting of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation grouping, to be held in Nay Pyi Taw from March 1 to 4.

Apart from India and Myanmar, the other BIMSTEC member countries are Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal.

India views the meeting as an opportunity for Myanmar to “balance its relations between the East and the West”, said Mr Mukhopadhaya.

“It’s about cementing a historical relationship, strengthening the economic relationship and building the political relationships,” he said.

Despite increased confidence on India’s part, he said there remained a tendency for an “imbalance” in Myanmar’s relationships towards East and South Asia, compared to its relationships to Western countries, the ambassador said.

Myanmar is “crucial” to India because of shared historical ties as well as the land border that helps to link India to other member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Mr Mukhopadhaya said.

He said India wants to increase trade with Myanmar in sectors such as agriculture, specifically by increasing border trade.

Mr Mukhopadhaya said while he envisioned that imports in agriculture from Myanmar would continue to be important, India would be seeking to enhance its exports and investments.

“Areas that we see of interest to private companies are power and cement,” he said.

Mr Mukhopadhaya said he hoped to see further progress on the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project, aimed at providing an alternative route between India’s eastern port of Kolkata and its landlocked northeastern states.

The project aims to link Kolkata and Sittwe by sea and have river and road links from the Rakhine State capital through Chin State to the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram.

Asked about tensions late last year over the placement of posts along the border between Sagaing Region and Manipur State, the ambassador said: “I think these are basically local problems and the important thing is that we have the mechanisms and we have the will to address them bilaterally and that’s what we are doing.”

India will be represented at the BIMSTEC meeting by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who will be making his second official visit to Myanmar since 2012.

The agenda for the meeting includes developing a framework for a permanent secretariat to be based in Bangladesh.