The significance of INSTC cannot be underplayed; however, what has experts concerned is Iran’s procrastination in seizing the opportunities brought on by its geographical position and turning such opportunities into competitive advantages.
Currently, besides North-South and East-West corridors, 10 other domestic corridors exist inside Iran, connecting different parts of the country together and with neighboring countries. The existing infrastructure in the southern ports of Iran makes INSTC the best itinerary for expanding transit. The development project carried out in the Shahid Beheshti Port of Chabahar and its proximity to Central Asia and CIS countries has created eagerness on the part of India and Russia to employ this corridor for their transit purposes.
INSTC is estimated to reduce transit time and expenses by respectively 30 and 25 percent when compared with the traditional transit route between Mumbai Port and the Baltic Sea which crosses through the Bab-el-Mandeb, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Gibraltar. The INSTC route passes through Mumbai, Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, Anzali Port, Astrakhan Port and Moscow to reach Northern and Eastern Europe.
INSTC is a comprehensive transport network, with many sub-corridors some of which pass through Iran:
- Chabahar Port to Afghanistan: road and rail (after the completion of Khavaf-Herat railroad)
- Chabahar Port through Sarakhs to Central Asia
- Bandar Abbas Port to Central Asia: road, rail and sea (from Amirabad Port)
- Bandar Abbas Port to Caucasus and Russia: road, rail and sea (after the completion of Rasht-Anzali-Astara railroad)
- Bandar Abbas Port to Turkey: road and rail
There are also alternative routes to INSTC, connecting India to Russia via Iran, including:
1. Mumbai, Bandar Abbas, Astara, Baku, Astrakhan, Moscow, Saint Petersburg
2. Mumbai, Bandar Abbas, Yazd, Inche-Borun, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Moscow, Saint Petersburg
3. Mumbai, Bandar Abbas, Nurduz border, Armenia, Georgia, Dagestan, Moscow, Saint Petersburg
4. Mumbai, Bandar Abbas (or Chabahar Port), Sarakhs, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia
5. Mumbai, Bandar Abbas (or Chabahar Port), Bazargan border, Turkey, the Black Sea, Samsun, Novorossiysk, Moscow, Saint Petersburg
6. Mumbai, Bandar Abbas (or Chabahar Port), Bazargan border, Turkey, the Black Sea, Samsun, Odessa, Moscow, Saint Petersburg
These sub-corridors and alternative routes provide an efficient transit network. To fully actualize INSTC, infrastructure construction especially completing the railroads of Chabahar-Sarakhs and Qazvin-Rasht-Astara has been prioritized.
To benefit from the advantages that INSTC provides, member countries need to coordinate their efforts. India and Russia have both been enthusiastic about participating in the corridor and partnership with Iran. India is Iran’s key partner in developing Chabahar Port and coordinated the INSTC friendship rally. Russia is also seeking to utilize INSTC instead of the traditional Suez Canal route. A special center has been established in Russia’s ministry of transport to coordinate transport and logistics with Iran’s ministry of roads and urban development. Azerbaijan is also contributing to the development of Rasht-Astara railroad, which will help fix the missing links of the corridor.
There are certain challenges that need to be addressed in INSTC. A comprehensive approach to INSTC is required; one that is not solely focused on infrastructure and transport but on added value, competitiveness and development. Agreements about customs and fees should also be competitive and include the private sector and traders. Additionally, awareness about competing in an international market should be established, especially in Iran where this gets overshadowed by the country’s geopolitical advantages. International sanctions are also a significant challenge that needs to be addressed.
In order to coordinate efforts and plan future actions, member countries have agreed to participate in INSTC Coordinating Council as well as a meeting for transport ministers. To better organize this event, task forces are to be established to address the following issues:
1) Trade and customs,
2) Improving processes,
3) Incentives for logistics’ investment,
4) Corridor’s secretary,
5) Media and diplomacy,
6) Official procedures,
The ultimate aim of the corridor is fostering development and facilitating trade for member states. Iran can play a leading role in this regard, and create collective benefits for all member countries as well as improve its own competitive advantages.