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Context: India hosted the Second Agriculture Ministerial-level meeting of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) here today under the chairmanship of the Union Minister for Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Shri Narendra Singh Tomar. Agriculture ministers of Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand participated in the meeting.
- The 2ndBIMSTEC Agriculture Ministerial Meeting adopted the Action Plan for Strengthening BIMSTEC Agricultural Cooperation (2023-2027).
- An MoU between the BIMSTEC Secretariat and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has been signed and approval has been given to bring Fisheries and Livestock sub-sectors under the Agricultural Working Group.
- BIMSTEC member countries appreciated India's efforts to strengthen cooperation in agricultural research and development and for awarding six scholarships each for postgraduate and PhD programmes in agriculture.
- 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 Thailandfrom 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 1997with 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 instruments for 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.