6th June, 2022 marked the completion of 25 years since foundation stone of Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) grouping was laid.
What is BIMSTEC?
- BIMSTEC is an economic bloc that came into being on 6th June 1997 through the Bangkok Declaration.
- It aims to accelerate economic growth and social progress among members across multiple sectors — trade, technology, energy, transport, tourism and fisheries, agriculture, public health, poverty alleviation, counter-terrorism, environment, culture, people to people contact and climate change.
- Headquartered in Dhaka, BIMSTEC is an inter-regional grouping that seeks to foster regional and economic cooperation among nations in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal — India, Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan.
- The BIMSTEC region is home to roughly 22 per cent of the global population with a combined GDP of over $2.7 trillion.
- Initially, the economic bloc was formed with four countries with the acronym ‘BIST-EC’ (Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation). With the entrance of Myanmar in 1997, the grouping was renamed ‘BIMST-EC’ (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation).
- Finally, with the entrance of Nepal and Bhutan at the 6th Ministerial Meeting in 2004, the grouping was named Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).
- The grouping holds annual meetings hosted by member states based on alphabetical rotation. Sri Lanka was the host nation this time.
- Progress of BIMSTEC – Some key agreements signed by BIMSTEC members include a convention for combating terrorism, transnational organised crime and illicit drug trafficking. However, this awaits ratification. Another is the BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection, signed during the BIMSTEC Summit in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 2018, which aims to promote an optimal power transmission in the BIMSTEC region.
Issues in BIMSTEC –
- Trade agreements — A major failure of BIMSTEC relates to the continuing inability to produce a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (FTA) 18 years after the signing of the Framework Agreement.
- Bureaucratic mindset — The highest political leaders, in their summit declarations, continue to direct ministers and officials to expedite action, but with little impact. This leaves the grouping largely in the hands of officials and experts.
- Connectivity — Only limited progress has been achieved so far, despite the adoption of the Master Plan for Connectivity supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Much of the connectivity established recently is the outcome of only bilateral initiatives taken by India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan to strengthen transport links. Mega-projects aimed to improve connectivity between India and Myanmar (and Thailand) have been delayed inordinately.
- Blue economy — The grouping has talked about Blue Economy but is yet to begin any work on it. According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem”.
- Funding — For greater regional connectivity, more financial resources are needed. The movement towards establishing the BIMSTEC Development Fund is minimal.
- Corporate partnership — Business chambers and corporate leaders are yet to be engaged fully with the activities of BIMSTEC. The involvement of the ‘Third Space’ needs to be expanded significantly.