Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

BIMSTEC

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BIMSTEC

Mains level : Paper 2- BIMSTEC -challenges and opportunities ahead

Context

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.

Colombo package

  • 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.

Challenges

  • 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.

Conclusion

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.

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