BIMSTEC vows to achieve founding goals

The third summit of BIMSTEC ended in Myanmar capital Nay Pyi Taw on March 4 with a firm resolve to make continued efforts in accomplishing the founding aims and purposes of the seven-nation forum of South and South East Asia.

BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) is a regional grouping of seven members: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Founded in 1997, BIMSTEC held its first and second summits in 2004 and 2008 in Thai capital Bangkok and Indian capital New Delhi respectively.

The main objective of this forum is to create an enabling environment for rapid economic development through identification and implementation of specific programmes in the 14 identified areas of cooperation, which include trade and investment, energy, transport and communication, tourism, agriculture, environment and disaster management, people-to-people contact, counter-terrorism and transnational crime and climate change. The 14 areas of cooperation will be led by the seven-member countries of the forum while areas have been allocated among them.

At the third summit in Myanmar, the BIMSTEC leaders decided to set up the organization’s headquarters in Bangladesh capital Dhaka and appoint its first secretary general from Sri Lanka.
A declaration issued after the summit decided to implement the BIMSTEC Poverty Plan of Action adopted at the second BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting on Poverty Alleviation in 2012. The next BIMSTEC summit will be held in Nepal, while Sri Lanka will host the third Ministerial Meeting on Poverty Alleviation in the first half of 2014.

Leaders and delegates discuss at the round table during the third Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit at Myanmar International Convention Centre (MICC) in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 4, 2014. (Photo : AP/NEWSis)

Headquarters to be in Dhaka

The summit agreed to explore collaborative initiatives towards addressing the adverse impacts of climate change and enhance cooperation in environmental protection and sustainable development and promote capacity building in the area of disaster management.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Myanmar President Thein Sein, Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Thai Prime Minister’s special envoy Sihasak Phuangketkeow led their respective countries’ delegations at the summit.

While the BIMSTEC leaders decided to move forward towards the finalization of the draft Agreement on Trade in Goods, they asked the BIMSTEC Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC) to expedite its work for the conclusion of the Agreement on Trade in Goods by the end of 2014.

The BIMSTEC leaders agreed to enhance cooperation in expanding skill and technology through collaboration and partnerships targeted towards micro, small and medium scale enterprises. They also decided to accelerate efforts for the early finalization of the Memorandum of Association on the Establishment of BIMSTEC Technology Transfer Facility.

Underlining the need for enhancing regional cooperation in the energy sector, the summit welcomed continuing work on developing physical connectivity in the BIMSTEC region. The leaders agreed to enhance cooperation in the health sector and expand efforts to further promote people-to-people exchanges and linkages at various levels including facilitating travels through the BIMSTEC Business Visa Scheme and BIMSTEC Visa Exemption Scheme.

Besides adoption of the Summit Declaration, three instruments were signed at the summit venue where the leaders were present. The instruments were the Memorandum of Association (MoA) on the Establishment of BIMSTEC Permanent Secretariat in Dhaka, MoA on the Establishment of BIMSTEC Center for Weather and Climate in India and Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the BIMSTEC Culture Industries Commission and BIMSTEC Cultural Industries Observatory to be set up in Bhutan.

Although the leaders of BIMSTEC have committed in their declaration to make continued efforts in accomplishing the founding aims and purposes of the regional forum, the question remains whether they can do it through effective cooperation. Regional cooperation is a popular concept in the present world and the area of such cooperation has been expanding across the globe.

Bridge between SAARC & ASEAN

However, the South Asian countries are yet to reach the goal of effective cooperation though the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which was established about three decades ago with the headquarters in Kathmandu of Nepal. The virtual ineffectiveness is mainly due to political conflict and other disputes between India and Pakistan, the two major partners of the SAARC. The problems between these two big nations remain unresolved for a long time and it hinders the progress of the regional forum. Besides India and Pakistan, other members of SAARC are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives. The total population of SAARC countries now stands at 1.5 billion.

On the other hand, another regional forum, Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), achieved success in cooperation in many areas including trade and economy. Formed in 1967, the forum groups ten South East Asian countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. The headquarters of ASEAN is located in Jakarta of Indonesia while the total population of its member-countries is 600 million. As ASEAN has proved as an effective regional forum for cooperation, a number of its members expanded while the forum engaged itself in activities of cooperation with other nations outside the forum.

The BIMSTEC was formed about 17 years ago with seven member-nations belonging to both SAARC and ASEAN with the high hope to bring about effective cooperation in this region. The geographic location of the BIMSTEC region can be described as a bridge between SAARC and ASEAN, and therefore it was expected that the new forum would help to develop a new area of regional cooperation with the support and collaboration of two other neighboring regional forums.

After some 17 years, the BIMSTEC leaders at their third summit firmly resolved to accomplish the founding aims and purposes of the seven-nation forum and also decided to set up its permanent secretariat in Dhaka and appoint the first secretary general from Sri Lanka. Although much time has elapsed, the decisions taken at the Nay Pyi Taw Summit are certainly positive and it will provide momentum for the forum. Vast prospects exist to bring about development through effective cooperation in the BIMSTEC region, which is very rich in natural resources and manpower. The success of BIMSTEC can be an example of a much-desired South-South cooperation.

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