From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : BIMSTEC
Mains level : Paper 2- BIMSTEC -challenges and opportunities ahead
The fifth summit of the regional grouping, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), held virtually in Colombo on March 30, has advanced the cause of regional cooperation and integration.
- Economic challenges: Representing a fifth of the world’s population that contributes only 4% of the global GDP, can this multilateral grouping trigger accelerated economic development?
- It was clear that BIMSTEC first needed to strengthen itself — by re-defining its purpose and rejuvenating its organs and institutions.
- The eventual result is now seen in the package of decisions and agreements announced at the latest summit.
Achievement of Colombo Summit
- 1] Adoption of Charter: Adopted formally, it presents BIMSTEC as “an inter-governmental organization” with “legal personality.”
- BIMSTEC’s purposes: Defining BIMSTEC’s purposes, it lists 11 items in the first article.
- Among them is acceleration of “the economic growth and social progress in the Bay of Bengal region”, and promotion of “multidimensional connectivity”.
- The grouping now views itself not as a sub-regional organisation but as a regional organisation whose destiny is linked with the area around the Bay of Bengal.
- 2] Reduction in the sectors of cooperation: The second element is the decision to re-constitute and reduce the number of sectors of cooperation from the unwieldy 14 to a more manageable seven.
- Each member-state will serve as a lead for a sector: trade, investment and development (Bangladesh); environment and climate change (Bhutan); security, including energy (India); agriculture and food security (Myanmar); people-to-people contacts (Nepal); science, technology and innovation (Sri Lanka), and connectivity (Thailand).
- 3] Adoption of the Master Plan for Transport Connectivity: the summit participants adopted the Master Plan for Transport Connectivity applicable for 2018-2028.
- It was devised and backed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
- It lists 264 projects entailing a total investment of $126 billion.
- Projects worth $55 billion are under implementation. BIMSTEC needs to generate additional funding and push for timely implementation of the projects.
- 4] Signing of three new agreements: Finally, the package also includes three new agreements signed by member states, relating to mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, cooperation between diplomatic academies, and the establishment of a technology transfer facility in Colombo.
- The pillar of trade, economic and investment cooperation needs greater strengthening and at a faster pace.
- Absence of FTA: Despite signing a framework agreement for a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in 2004, BIMSTEC stands far away from this goal.
- Lack of legal instruments: The need for expansion of connectivity was stressed by one and all, but when it comes to finalising legal instruments for coastal shipping, road transport and intra-regional energy grid connection, much work remains unfinished.
- There needs to be mention of the speedy success achieved in deepening cooperation in security matters and management of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR).
- Focus more on new areas: BIMSTEC should focus more in the future on new areas such as the blue economy, the digital economy, and promotion of exchanges and links among start-ups and Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).
- Step up the personal engagement of political leadership: The personal engagement of the political leadership should be stepped up.
- The decision taken in Colombo to host a summit every two years is welcome if implemented.
- Greater visibility: BIMSTEC needs greater visibility.
- India’s turn to host the G20 leaders’ summit in 2023 presents a golden opportunity, which can be leveraged optimally. Perhaps all its members should be invited to the G20 summit as the chair’s special guests.
- Simplify the groupings name: The suggestion to simplify the grouping’s name needs urgent attention.
- The present name running into 12 words should be changed to four words only — the Bay of Bengal Community (BOBC).
- It will help the institution immensely. Brevity reflects gravitas.
BIMSTEC is no longer a mere initiative or programme. The question to address is whether it is now capable of tackling the challenges facing the region.