BIMSTEC NATIONS IDENTIFY SPHERES OF CO-OPERATION

Bay of Bengal Initiative For Multi -SECTORAL Technical & Economic Cooperation  is dedicated to create an enabling environment for rapid economic development through identification and implementation of specific cooperation in various sectors. These are   trade, investment, industry, technology, human resource development, tourism, agriculture, energy, infrastructure and transportation, transport and communication, agriculture, fisheries, counter terrorism and transnational crime, environment and disaster management, climate change, public health, poverty alleviation, culture and people-to-people contact.  The main objective of the BIMSTEC was detailed by M Shadul Islam, Secretary General of the Dhaka headquartered organization at Kolkata Colloquium held on 28 and 29 November.  BIMSTEC comprises Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan. Fourteen priority sectors of cooperation have been identified and several BIMSTEC centers have been established to focus on those sectors. The initial emphasis on project-based cooperation has been   shifted to a rule- and institution-based cooperation format. A number of agreements and MOUs were initiated to provide legal framework for cooperation, the most notable one being the Framework Agreement on BIMSTEC Free Trade Area in 2004  providing  negotiating specific agreements to eliminate tariffs and non-tariff barriers, liberalize trade in services, establish an open and competitive investment regime, and establish effective trade and investment facilitating measures, including simplification of customs procedures, facilitation of visa for businessmen and development of mutual recognition arrangements. In 2014, BIMSTEC established its permanent secretariat in Dhaka which gave a formal structure to this regional forum, he said.  BIMSTEC received new impetus when BIMSTEC Leaders were invited to a Leaders’ Retreat organized alongside BRICS Summit held in Goa in October 2016. At the Goa   Retreat, the Leaders reiterated their strong political commitment to make the organization stronger, more effective and result-oriented, and recommended a 17-point Agenda of Action. Since then, BIMSTEC began to hold meetings more regularly and resumed negotiations to conclude pending agreements including BIMSTEC FTA. Riding on the new momentum, the 4th BIMSTEC Summit held in Kathmandu in 2018 took a number of important decisions to rationalize and consolidate BIMSTEC’s operational modalities and institutional structure. The Summit decided to draft BIMSTEC Charter, establish a BIMSTEC Development Fund, and review and rationalize the 14 sectors of cooperation to bring focus in BIMSTEC’s work. The topics selected for the Colloquium – connectivity, trade, climate change and disaster management, cultural linkages – were some of the most relevant areas of BIMSTEC cooperation. Two sessions had been devoted to media, because the role of media will be crucial in both reimagining and reimaging BIMSTEC.The first area to receive renewed attention of Member States is the economic dimension of cooperation, which is the raison d’etre of BIMSTEC. The success of other regional organizations like EU and ASEAN are often measured by the role they have played in promoting intra-regional trade and investment. BIMSTEC with more than 1.6 billion people and a combined GDP of over 3 trillion US dollars is one of the fastest growing regions in the world. But these countries do 94% of their international trade with non-members of BIMSTEC, and the remaining 6% trade take place within themselves, compared to 24% for ASEAN and 64% for EU. The BIMSTEC Trade Negotiating Committee has held 21 rounds of negotiations to finalize the text of the Agreement on Trade in Goods but to no avail. BIMSTEC needs to conclude the long awaited BIMSTEC Free Trade Area without further delay, because that will constitute the crucial first step towards economic integration of the region. In addition, trade facilitation measures such as simplification of customs procedures, business visa facilitation and mutual recognition arrangements should be put in place. BIMSTEC region is one of the least connected regions in the world. The importance of connectivity was aptly captured by the Prime Minister of India, in his speech at the Fourth BIMSTEC Summit, and I quote, “I believe that the biggest opportunity is connectivity – trade connectivity, economic connectivity, transport connectivity, digital connectivity, [and] people-to-people connectivity.” Unquote.  BIMSTEC must leverage on its unique geographical location to act as the bridge between South and Southeast Asia by strengthening physical, economic and people-to-people connectivity. The Hon’ble Prime Minister Thailand in the Fourth BIMSTEC Summit stated that BIMSTEC should aim for a road network to transport people, goods and services as well as harmonization of rules and regulations to accommodate seamless movement from India to the east coast of Vietnam in the shortest possible time. The ADB-assisted study titled “BIMSTEC Transport Connectivity Master Plan” and the proposed BIMSTEC Motor Vehicle Agreement[1]  will greatly help in realizing this vision.    


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