Q.1. Active participation in BIMSTEC would not only benefit India but all the member countries. Comment. – 250 words
Q.2. Recently, the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) has made considerable progress in terms of co-operation among the member countries. Comment. What steps must be taken to improve the position of BIMSTEC? – 250 words)
How active involvement in BIMSTEC will benefit India:
- BIMSTEC has a trade potential of US$ 760 billion against the current intra-regional trade of US$ 40.5 billion.
- The regional grouping of choice in South Asia — the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) — flounders with strained India-Pakistan relations, and thus BIMSTEC will allow for a broader playing field.
- Strategically located in the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and BIMSTEC not only cater to the wider concept of “Indo-Pacific” and an Indian Ocean community that New Delhi espouses, it also includes two ASEAN member states (Myanmar and Thailand) in its ranks, which is crucial for New Delhi’s key foreign policy priorities, the Act East Policy and Neighborhood First.
- How will BIMSTEC benefit the northeast – With the northeast sharing borders with four BIMSTEC countries, including Myanmar, the possibility of multiregional cooperation with Southeast Asia and ASEAN makes it an attractive alternative to SAARC.
- With access to the Indian Ocean and the Himalayas, BIMSTEC is becoming the theater of convergence and competition for China’s Belt and Road Initiative, India’s Act East policy, and the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor.
Recent progress made by BIMSTEC:
- First, BIMSTEC member states have assigned the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to prepare a Master Plan for BIMSTEC Connectivity, which is almost ready.
- The BIMSTEC Coastal Shipping Agreement and BIMSTEC Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) are being negotiated.
- BIMSTEC countries have completed negotiations for the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the establishment of the BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection.
- BIMSTEC Agreement on Mutual Assistance on Customs Matters has been signed and is under ratification.
- Considerable progress has been achieved in non-traditional security areas such as cooperation among national security agencies, cooperation to check security threats such as smuggling, human trafficking, fake currency, drugs and piracy, etc. Sixth, a Secretariat has been established at Dhaka along with few BIMSTEC Centres in the region.
How BIMSTEC will assist other countries neighboring India
- Sri Lanka – As Sri Lanka assumes current chairmanship of BIMSTEC, successfully leading the subregional grouping is vital for Colombo to prove its ability to play a larger role in Indian Ocean initiatives.
- Bangladesh – For Bangladesh, BIMSTEC is a platform for much needed economic development through regional integration. Although the Rohingya issue was not brought up at the summit, the forum does provide an opportunity on the sidelines for Dhaka and Naypyidaw to address outstanding issues if they wish to do so.
- Nepal and Bhutan – Nepal and Bhutan see BIMSTEC as a way to further integrate with the Bay of Bengal region.
- Myanmar and Thailand – BIMSTEC allows for a way to address overdependence on China and balance Beijing by providing access to consumer markets in India and other rising BIMSTEC economies.
Way ahead for BIMSTEC
- Focused approach – Narrow down its areas of focus from 14 to six — trade and investment, connectivity, energy, people-to-people exchanges, counterterrorism, and the Blue Economy — and enhanced the institutional capacity of its Secretariat.
- Free trade agreement – BIMSTEC region requires a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), no matter how limited in scope. Even with its members boasting a combined GDP of $2.8 trillion, intraregional trade in BIMSTEC barely exceeds 5 percent of the total, compared to 30 percent within ASEAN. Negotiations for a BIMSTEC FTA have been dragging on for the last 14 years.
- Increased connectivity – Increased connectivity in the Bay of Bengal is a must. The Bay of Bengal is one of the least integrated regions in the world, despite being home to 1.6 billion people, or nearly 23 percent of the world’s population. Though BIMSTEC has several connectivity projects in the pipelines, slow movement on the ground is a reason why the subregional grouping has been largely rendered ineffective until now. BIMSTEC should prioritize finishing up the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway and the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project, which will allow for sea-access for India’s landlocked northeastern states via the Kaladan river in Myanmar. Both projects have lagged behind deadlines for years.
- BIMSTEC must give special focus on BIMSTEC cross-border e-commerce and digital connectivity.
- Investment cooperation should be accorded highest importance and priority to strengthen intra-regional investment in BIMSTEC.
- More socio-cultural interactions will build greater sense of ownership of BIMSTEC among the people of the region.
- BIMSTEC countries should aim for regulatory harmonisation. It would ensure that goods may be exported without requiring additional certification.
- Strengthen Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) cooperation in the region. BIMSTEC countries need to strictly follow IPR arrangements, which will help the countries to move higher up in the technology ladder, encourage transfer of technology and stimulate innovation and creativity.
Sources: The Hindu, Economic Times and The Diplomat
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