Seven-nation regional grouping BIMSTEC on 30th march adopted a charter to expand its overall cooperation and firmed up a master plan for transport connectivity at a virtual summit attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other leaders of the bloc.
The BIMSTEC Summit 2022 was hosted by Sri Lanka with the theme “Towards a Resilient Region, Prosperous Economies, and Healthy People”.
Outcomes of Summit:
The main outcome of the BIMSTEC Summit 2022 was the adoption and signing of the BIMSTEC Charter, which formalizes the grouping into an organization with an emblem, flag and formally listed principles to be adhered to.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with other BIMSTEC leaders also witnessed the signing of 3 BIMSTEC agreements that represent progress being achieved in ongoing cooperation activities.
- BIMSTEC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters
- BIMSTEC MoU on Mutual Cooperation in diplomatic training
- Establishment of BIMSTEC Technology Transfer Facility
The BIMSTEC cooperation activities will take place in seven pillars and each of the member countries will lead one pillar. India will lead the security pillar of the BIMSTEC.
India has provided USD 1 million (one million is equal to ten lakhs) as an ad-hoc grant for the operational budget of the grouping’s secretariat
The Summit also saw considerable progress in BIMSTEC connectivity agenda with adoption of the ‘Master Plan for Transport Connectivity’.
The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a regional multilateral organisation.
Its members lie in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal constituting a contiguous regional unity.
It consist of seven countries:
Five are from South Asia –Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka .Two are from Southeast Asia – Myanmar, Thailand.
This sub-regional organization came into being in 1997 through the Bangkok Declaration as BISTEC with four countries: Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand
It was named BIMSTEC in 2004 after Myanmar (1997), Nepal (2004) and Bhutan (2004) joined it.
1st Summit meeting was held in Bangkok in 2004.
Its Secretariat is located in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Founding principles: cooperation within BIMSTEC will be based on respect for the principle of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, and political independence, non-interference in internal affairs, peaceful coexistence and mutual benefit.
Areas of Cooperation: Trade and Investment; Technology; Energy; Transportation and Communication; Tourism; Fisheries; Agriculture; Cultural Cooperation; Environment and Disaster Management; Public Health; People-to-People Contact; Poverty Alleviation; Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime; Climate Change.
Significance of BIMSTEC in Today’s World:
- The changing dynamics of the world order could provide BIMSTEC the opportunity to expand beyond the South Asian region
- The idea behind the formation of this grouping was to remedy the lack of connectedness between South Asia and Southeast Asia.
- The BIMSTEC region has a population of roughly 22 percent of the global population with a combined GDP of over US$2.7 trillion.
- For India, BIMSTEC allows the confluence of its Act East and the Neighbourhood Policies.
- Due to the failure of SAARC, given the Indo-Pak hostilities, India has turned to the BIMSTEC nations for expanding its reach and presence in the Indo-Pacific region.
- The capacity of BIMSTEC also gives India the possibility to strengthen relations with the ASEAN and the vice versa is also equally true.
- While BIMSTEC serves myriad opportunities and situations for remarkable growth, bilateral relations amongst member countries have also impeded the functioning of the organisation. The Bangladesh–Myanmar row over the Rohingya crisis, India–Nepal border issue, and India–Sri Lanka riftover fishing and detention of fishermen have fed to the latency in the organisation.
- The enhancing bilateral relations between the nations have also diluted their interest in contributing significantly to the organisation. Over the years, nations have directed their energy towards ensuring the success of bilateral or multilateral initiatives (India–Myanmar–Thailand Highway Project, the Kaladan River project, and the Bhutan Bangladesh India Nepal initiative), and this has denied the grouping of concrete participation from the member nations.
- The domestic situation of these nations can also prove to be significant threats. The BIMSTEC region is prone to weapon and drug trafficking which further aggravate the volatile situation in India’s Northeast.
- The current Sri Lankan economic crisis, the insurgent groups inin Myanmar, and the issue of trade unions in Myanmar and Thailand have a long-term impact on the considerations of the grouping and could restrain the actualisation of its initiatives.
- For India, the militant activities in the Northeast pose a threat to the success of its initiatives.
- The member countries’ participation is also bound by their relations with China. Only Bhutan and India aren’t part of any Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure projects. With the Russia–Ukraine crisis, China is bound to turn its attention to its BRI project in Asia.
- This puts India in a position to deal with renewed and solid attention from China to its neighbouring countries.
- For BIMSTEC to become more relevant, it has to engage extra-regional like-minded partners, willing to invest in the region. Even engaging countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, and Cambodia can lead to an expansion of its activities.
- Simultaneously, taking BIMSTEC to other groupings outside of the region is also crucial. One such favourable partnership could be with the Quad. This also gives them the opportunity to balance against both India and China as well as the US.
- While the focus of BIMSTEC activities have usually been on environment and disaster management, the finalisation of initiatives in other areas is especially crucial. One such sector is the financial and economic exchange, for which the finalisation of the Free Trade Agreement is necessary.
- Furthermore, the grouping also needs to focus on extending its activities to the sea and formulate policies on the development of the ‘Blue Economy’.
- Given the region’s relation to the Indo-Pacific, increasing dialogue on maritime security and establishing codes for future engagement in the same can be helpful to counter China’s strategic voyages on the seas.