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thaiWays to expand maritime security cooperation, dealing with the threat of terrorism and boosting trade and investment will be a major focus of talks between India and Thailand during Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Chas three-day visit here beginning Thursday.

Chan-o-Cha will have extensive talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday on a raft of issues including enhancing overall defence and security cooperation and the situation in the South China Sea.

The Thai Prime Minister is accompanied by a high-level delegation comprising the Deputy Prime Minister, five senior ministers and a 46-member business delegation.

The two sides will also deliberate on stepping up cooperation in trade and tourism sector. India is keen on enhancing connectivity between the two countries and promoting the Buddhist tourist circuits.

Issues relating to the proposed free trade pact between the two countries may also figure in talks. The volume of current annual bilateral trade between the two countries is nearly USD eight billion and both sides are very keen to expand it further.

The Thai Prime Minister will visit Bodh Gaya, a major place of pilgrimage for Buddhists, in Gaya district of Bihar before returning to Thailand on June 18.

It will be Chan-o-Chas first India visit as premier. Earlier Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had paid a State visit to India in January 2012 and she was the Chief Guest for the Republic Day celebrations.

Briefing reporters about the visit, Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs Preeti Saran said India regards Thailand as “central pillar” of Indias ties with ASEAN countries and a host of issues ranging from maritime security, trade and investment, education, tourism and space research are likely to figure prominently in talks.

Asked whether the disputes relating to South China Sea will be discussed, she said India will share its views if the issue is raised, adding freedom of navigation in the resource-rich area was important.

On maritime security, she said cooperation between the two countries in the Indian Ocean is already “very strong” and ways to further enhance it may be explored.

Saran said Thailand has shown interest in joint ventures in defence production and procurement of defence platforms from India. The issue may figure in the talks besides ways to combat terrorism.

The areas of expansion of trade will be sectors like steel, banking and food processing. India was keen on attracting Thai investment in the infrastructure sector.

Saran said there was huge potential for expanding bilateral cooperation in the tourism sector. Currently, around one million Indians visit Thailand annually while the number of Thai people visiting India is around one lakh.

The Thai Prime Minister will also address an event organised by industry chambers FICCI and CII where a joint business forum of the two countries will be formed which will give its recommendations on ways to boost trade