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India and BIMSTEC: Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation

Prime Minister Narendra Modi concluded his two days visit to Nepal after attending the fourth BIMSTEC summit. BIMSTEC, since the beginning in 1997 witnessed a lukewarm response amongst the member nations until 2016 which proved to be a watershed year for this regional grouping as it saw an outreach by larger global grouping BRICS, overshadowed the SAARC and set the agenda for a regional block minus Pakistan. The latest summit continued signifying the rising status of India in its immediate and extended neighbourhood.

What is BIMSTEC?

Regional grouping of littoral and adjacent states around Bay of Bengal, comprising seven states.

Who are the Member nations?

South Asia -Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka,

South East Asia -Myanmar, Thailand

Why BIMSTEC is important
  • A bridge between South Asia and South East Asia
  • Home to around 1.5 bn people (22% of Global Population)
  • Combined GDP of around $2.7 Trillion
  • Members cooperate with each other in 14 areas for mutual benefits
BIMSTEC – Summits
  • First Summit – 2004 – Thailand
  • Second Summit – 2008 – India
  • Third Summit – 2014 – Myanmar
  • Fourth Summit – 2018 – Nepal
4th BIMSTEC Summit – Highlights

Theme – “Towards a Peaceful, Prosperous and Sustainable Bay of Bengal
Region”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted souvenirs from India’s Northeast to BIMSTEC leaders. These comprised of stoles and shawls depicting traditional motifs from Northeast and Kantha embroidery from Bengal. This is in line with India’s vision to bring Northeast of India on the global map in such a way that it can help India’s Act East Policy in its eastern neighbourhood, especially South East Asia and BIMSTEC.

Transport and Connectivity

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a greater connectivity among the member states. India’s commitment to Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN motor vehicle agreement) was also seen in BIMSTEC summit which decided to gear up efforts towards conclusion of the BIMSTEC Coastal Shipping Agreement and the BIMSTEC Motor Vehicle Agreement.

India has offered to host a BIMSTEC Ministerial Conclave at the Indian Mobile Congress 2018 being held in New Delhi from 25-27 October 2018 on the theme “New Digital Horizons: Connect, Create, Innovate”

Trade and Investment

The countries aim for an early conclusion to the BIMSTEC Free Trade Area (FTA) negotiations. It is interesting to note here that India has reportedly been pushing for an early consensus on BIMSTEC FTA. India offered to host a BIMSTEC Startup Conclave in December 2018.

Counter-terrorism and transnational crime

India’s consistent push to fight terrorism and especially from its Western frontier was further recognised by members of BIMSTEC, some of whom as members of another block SAARC have already boycotted a Summit in 2016 which was to be held in Pakistan.

BIMSTEC’s 4th summit continued with the spirit of fighting terrorism, with India in the lead, condemning terror attacks all over the world including in BIMSTEC countries, in a strongly worded document. It also decided to the sign the BIMSTEC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters. Read here

Energy

Commitment was shown towards early establishment of BIMSTEC GRID so that uninterrupted power supply can be provided to people in the region.

Agriculture

BIMSTEC members decided to further deepen the cooperation in agriculture and allied sectors, preserve the traditional knowledge of the farming and link it to modern farming systems. India offered to host the BIMSTEC seminar on Climate Smart Farming Systems in 2019.

Tourism

While agreeing to promote intra-BIMSTEC tourism, members committed to develop and promote Buddhist Tourist Circuit, Temple Tourist Circuit, ancient cities trail, eco-tourism and medical tourism.

Two more sectors integrated at 4th summit

Blue economy – Prime Minister Modi has been a very vocal supporter of the concept of Blue Economy which has now been integrated to BIMSTEC’s sectoral cooperation. He, at BIMSTEC summit, also spoke on the significance of Blue Economy: “Our geographical location makes us part of global sea trade route and there is a special part of the blue economy in our economies and in coming times, India will organize a hackathon on the blue economy with young participants from all BIMSTEC countries.”

After the boycott of SAARC summit in Pakistan and outreach to BIMSTEC at BRICS summit in Goa in 2016, BIMSTEC has gained more significance in geopolitical landscape of South Asia and South East Asia as it excludes Pakistan for its involvement in state-sponsored terror. India, planning to play out of the box in South Asia, is keen to play a larger role in world politics and BIMSTEC has emerged as an appropriate forum for it.

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