19TH BIMSTEC MINISTERIAL MEET
11th March, 2023 International Relations
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Context: Minister of State for External Affairs participated in the 19th BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting virtually from Bangkok.
Highlights of the meet:
- The meeting was hosted by Chair Thailand.
- During the meeting, the Ministers approved several documents including rules of Procedure for Core BIMSTEC Mechanisms, Sectoral BIMSTEC Mechanisms and BIMSTEC’s External Relations for submission to the 6th BIMSTEC Summit.
- The meeting also approved the draft Host Country Agreement between India and the BIMSTEC Secretariat for establishing BIMSTEC Centre for Weather and Climate in India.
- The Meeting also approved the Terms of Reference for an Eminent Person’s Group on the Future Directions of BIMSTEC.
- The Terms of Reference were finalized under the special scheme for institution building announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the 5th BIMSTEC Summit in Colombo.
- Besides BIMSTEC Bangkok Vision 2030 was also approved and will be launched at the 6th BIMSTEC Summit.
- The Meeting also gave its nod to the Administrative and Disciplinary Rules of the Secretariat and amended Financial Rules and Regulations of the BIMSTEC Secretariat. It will enable expenditure by the Secretariat throughout the financial year with an approved Budget.
- The fifth summit of the the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) was held virtually in Colombo.
- It presents BIMSTEC as “an inter-governmental organization” with “legal personality.”
- It defines BIMSTEC’s purposes and lists 11 items in the first article. Which includes
- acceleration of “the economic growth and social progress in the Bay of Bengal region”, and
- promotion of “multidimensional connectivity”.
- 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).
Master Plan for Transport Connectivity:
- 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.
- The package also includes three new agreements, relating to mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, cooperation between diplomatic academies, and the establishment of a technology transfer facilityin Colombo.
- The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is an international organisation of seven South Asian and Southeast Asian nations.
- The BIMSTEC provides a unique link between South and South-East Asia with 5 countries - Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka from South Asia and two countries - Myanmar and Thailand from South-East Asia coming together on one platform for cooperation in 14 key economic and social sectors of the economy.
- The BIMSTEC was founded in 1997 with an ambition to pursue mutual trade, connectivity and cultural, technical and economic development in the region.
- It will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year.
- Initially, six sectors- trade, technology, energy, transport, tourism and fisheries were included for sectoral cooperation which was later expanded to 14 areas of cooperation.
- Agriculture is one of the 14 sectors.
- 22 per cent of the global population live in BIMSTEC countries, agriculture & allied activities are central to the economic and social development of the region.
- A BIMSTEC free trade agreement is under negotiation, also referred to as the mini SAARC.
- The BIMSTEC Free Trade Area Framework Agreement (BFTAFA) has been signed by all member nations to stimulate trade and investment in the parties, and attract outsiders to trade with and invest in the BIMSTEC countries at a higher level.
What need to be done to strengthen BIMSTEC?
- Trade pillar needs support: The pillar of trade, economic and investment cooperation needs greater strengthening and at a faster pace.
- Bridging the bay in quest of a stronger BIMSTEC: Despite signing a framework agreement for a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in 2004, BIMSTEC stands far away from this goal. Of the seven constituent agreements needed for the FTA, only two are in place as of now.
- Need to finalise legal instrumentsfor coastal shipping, road transport and intra-regional energy grid connection.
- India was the only country to offer additional funding to the Secretariat and also to support the Secretary General’s proposal to establish an Eminent Persons Group (EPG) for producing a vision document. Other countries need to emulate this sincere matching of words with action.
- 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).
- The personal touch: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. But in the medium term, an annual summit should be the goal.
- BIMSTEC needs greater visibility. India’s turn to host the G20 leaders’ summit in 2023 presents a golden opportunity.
- Simplify the grouping’s name: 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.
Q) Discuss the role India can play in strengthening the functioning of BIMSTEC. (150 words)