International Org. | Part 1 | Mekong Ganga Cooperation and BIMSTEC

MGC and BIMSTEC are two regional organisations where India can play a major role.

This post continues from the series on International Relations for IAS Prep. Read the essential posts here –

Of late, UPSC has developed a knack of asking factual questions involving India’s membership status/ important reports/ foundation year etc. Here’s a quick mind map to set you up with bare basics of the asia region. We will cover each and every one of them in great detail to help you understand their origins and evolutions (wrt. India).

#1. Mekong Ganga Cooperation (MGC)

When? 2000

Origins: An initiative by 6 countries – India and 5 ASEAN countries, namely, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam

Relevance and Evolution

Both the Ganga and the Mekong are civilizational rivers, and the MGC initiative aims to facilitate closer contacts among the people inhabiting these two major river basins. Key areas of cooperation under MGC were tourism, culture, education, and transport & communications.

Despite ASEAN’s rhetoric and posturing, it remains a weak organisation incapable of handling serious challenges, economic or strategic. There has been a proliferation of trade groups carrying many (confusing!) acronyms.

With India’s elevated status in ASEAN by 2012, the time is ripe to enter the Mekong Region. Apart from reinforcing India’s security, it will remove economic isolation of the North East Region (NER).

There is a lack of connectivity between India, Myanmar and beyond and hence a need to build connecting corridors. Unlike the European Union, with nascent Asian economies we have to follow the “hub and spoke” process which impedes in the trade process.

Latest developments:

India hosted the 6th MGC Ministerial Meeting on September 4, 2012. New Areas of Cooperation added in the 6th MGC –

  1. Conservation of Rice GermPlasm – A new area of mutually beneficial cooperation in rice production techniques and downstream processing projects
  2. Enhancing cooperation among SME – India circulated a concept paper
  3. Health – Aim is to strengthen the region’s capacity to respond to the menace of drug resistant malaria and other such emerging public health threats
  4. Common Archival Resource Centre (CARC) at Nalanda University

#2. Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC)

When? 1997 | HQ: Dhaka, Bangladesh

Origins: BIMSTEC started off as the Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand Economic Cooperation Group in 1997. Myanmar joined in 1997, while Nepal and Bhutan joined in 2004 when the first summit was held in Bangkok.

Relevance and Evolution

BIMSTEC is said to have been encouraged by India’s Look East Policy (LEP) and Thailand’s Look West Policy.

BIMSTEC was seen as a vital bridge between SAARC and ASEAN. Myanmar and Thailand are already in ASEAN while Japan is Thailand’s second-biggest export destination.

But in the present context, when the members of BIMSTEC have acquired memberships in various other regional/sub-regional organisations which also promote cooperation at different levels, it might not end up being that fruitful an organisation (that it was intended up to be).

BIMSTEC identified 14 priority areas where a member country takes lead. India is lead country for – 

  • Transport & Communication
  • Tourism
  • Environment & Disaster Management
  • Counter Terrorism & Transnational Crime

Advantage India?

Pakistan and China do not form member countries and this grouping provides India an opportunity to increase its sphere of influence.

India should be more proactive towards BIMSTEC to make its LEP 3.0 a success. BIMSTEC could help India to further increase its cooperation with countries located around the Bay of Bengal along with two of its adjuncts, namely Malacca Straits and Andaman Sea.

Transport & Communication being one of the priority focus areas – Better integration with North East region & East Asian economies is a theme to look forward to.

What has India done for BIMSTEC?

India and Thailand are the two main (rich) partners of BIMSTEC. With Thailand mostly embroiled in controversies, India is looked upon to take a lead and act as a catalyst. Remember the lead areas with India? Transport, Tourism, Environment  & Terrorism.

The last meeting (3rd Summit) @Nay Pyi Taw (New Capital of Myanmar) did not see any major outcomes, but a few of worth of mentioning here are –

  1. 2015 was declared as the Year of BIMSTEC Tourism
  2. The framework agreement on the BIMSTEC FTA was signed in 2004, but it is not yet fully operational. Read more here
  3. Ratify conventions related to other areas of responsibilities

TIP: Whenever you think about the advantage of our associations with our north eastern neighbouring countries, think of two things –

  1. Transportation woes
  2. Fighting crime syndicates (terrorism, smuggling, narcotics and what not)

Consequently, our associations with them will look to establish new roads, routes and pacts to counter them. Of course, there is a lot in common with culture and agricultural produce etc etc. but you get the bigger picture right?

One such project is Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project in Myanmar. It was supposed to be completed by 2015, but sigh.

Time to Energize BIMSTEC

How long can SAARC (30+ year old organisation) wait for India and Pakistan to sort out their bilateral issues and push forward for the broader agenda of regional economic cooperation?

Given the current state of India-Pakistan relations, it is unlikely that Pakistan will agree to even a minimal set of economic cooperation arrangements within the SAARC framework, as was evident in Kathmandu when it refused to sign the multi-modal road and rail transport agreement. (Source – The Diplomat).

The most important driver is going to be the BIMSTEC Free Trade Area. While a Framework Agreement has been signed, it has yet to come into force. What is FTA? Read this post on trade agreement first. 

Point being that India needs to reallocate its priority with the new surge @ Act East and get the best out of these regional groupings where it can play a natural leader.

UPSC ke sawaal

#1. In the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation, an initiative of six countries, which of the following is/are not a participant/ participants? (Pre 2015)

  1. Bangladesh 
  2. Cambodia 
  3. China 
  4. Myanmar 
  5. Thailand

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

(a) 1 only  (b) 2, 3 and 4  (c) 1 and 3  (d) 1, 2 and 5

#2. “Compared to the South Asian Trade Area (SAFTA), the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation Free Trade Area (BIMSTEC FTA) seems to be more promising.” Critically evaluate. (Mains 2011)


By B2B

Revisiting the Basics

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