The fourth summit of Bay of Bengal Initiatives for Multi-Sectoral, Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) complete in Kathmandu, capital city of Nepal from 30th to 31st August, 2018. The summit enhance connectivity between BIMSTEC nations through roads, airways and transmission lines. The top priority of the summit focus on connectivity and poverty alleviation.
Since ancient times, regional partnerships have driven growth and prosperity all over the World. In today’s time, it witnesses how Europe foster regional cooperation through European Union. NFTA, USAN are few examples. The interdependency on trade, globalization and digital connectivity in the 21st century hampers the engagement in trans-regional, regional and sub-regional initiatives to nurture goals of regional stability and development.
The largest bay in the World, the Bay of Bengal is of pivotal importance to the countries bordering it. Even though demographic, economic, and security developments in the region have crucial implications for Asia and the global order, it is yet one of the World’s least integrated regions, with abysmal levels of trade, connectivity, and cooperation. The regional group to fill the gap between South and South East Asia has always been felt and the BIMSTEC has established a platform for intra-regional cooperation between SAARC and ASEAN members.
The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a regional organization comprising seven Member States lying in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal constituting a contiguous regional unity. The region is home to around 1.5 billion people which constitute around 22% of the global population. This sub-regional organization came into being on 6 June 1997 through the Bangkok Declaration. It constitutes seven Member States: five deriving from South Asia, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and two from Southeast Asia, including Myanmar and Thailand. Initially, the economic bloc was formed with four Member States with the acronym ‘BIST-EC’ (Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation).
Following the inclusion of Myanmar on 22 December 1997 during a special Ministerial Meeting in Bangkok, the Group was renamed ‘BIMST-EC’ (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation). With the admission of Nepal and Bhutan at the 6th Ministerial Meeting (February 2004, Thailand), the name of the grouping was changed to ‘Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation’ (BIMSTEC). In fact, The combined gross domestic product (GDP) of 2.7 trillion economy. In the last five years, BIMSTEC Member States have been able to sustain an average 6.5% economic growth trajectory despite global financial meltdown.
BIMSTEC Guiding Principles
The organization functions as per the founding principles of BIMSTEC as laid down in the Bangkok Declaration of 6 June 1997 and directions given by the Leaders of the Member States. The founding principles of BIMSTEC are as under:
- Cooperation within BIMSTEC will be based on respect for the principle of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, no-interference in internal affairs, peaceful co- existence and mutual benefit.
- Cooperation within BIMSTEC will constitute an addition to and not be a substitute for bilateral, regional or multilateral cooperation involving the Member States.
Areas of Co-operation
Trade & Investment-Led by Bangladesh
Trade and Investment was one of the initial six sectors of BIMSTEC cooperation as identified by the 2nd BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting held in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 19 December 1998.
The initial vision for BIMSTEC economic cooperation, as articulated in the 1st (Special) Ministerial Meeting held in Bangkok on 22 December 1997, had three major pillars:
- Close public-private partnership to promote economic cooperation;
- Identification of sectors, sub-sectors and projects for economic cooperation, and
- Elimination of non-tariff and tariff barriers through government-to-government negotiations.
Trade and Investment Sector has a well-developed institutional mechanism to conduct its activities:
- Trade and Economic Ministerial Meeting (TEMM);
- Senior Trade and Economic Officials’ Meeting (STEOM);
- Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC) and its Working Groups;
- BIMSTEC Economic Forum; and
BIMSTEC Business Forum.
Technology – led by Sri-Lanka
The technology is one of the 14 sectors of cooperation identified since the inception of BIMSTEC in 1997.
Technology Exchange and project cooperation in agro-based technologies, food processing, herbal products, biotechnology, ICT sectors have been identified by the Member States as the few key areas.
During the 11th Senior Officials Meeting in 2006, Sri Lanka, the Lead country proposed to establish a BIMSTEC Technology Transfer Exchange. While endorsing Sri Lanka’s proposal the Ninth Ministerial Meeting in 2006 underlined the need to enhance cooperation in advanced areas of fundamental scientific research and exchange of expertise in software and hardware development, as well as joint R&D in this field. The Meeting also encouraged technology transfer and exchange of experience and data on Geographical Information System (GIS).
During the Second BIMSTEC Summit, which was held in New Delhi, India in November 2008, the Leaders decided to establish a BIMSTEC Technology Transfer Facility in Sri Lanka.
The Leaders during the Third BIMSTEC Summit in March 2014 agreed to enhance cooperation in expanding skill and technology base of Member States through collaborations and partnerships targeted towards micro, small and medium-sized enterprises and decided to accelerate efforts for the early finalization of Memorandum of Association on the Establishment of BIMSTEC Technology Transfer Facility. Further, this aspect receive emphasis by the Leaders during the Retreat at Goa in October 2016.
Energy sector- led by Myanmar
The objectives of the sector are to enhance energy cooperation among BIMSTEC Member States through the establishment of BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection program to expand energy trade among Member States and accelerate development of new hydro-power projects, interconnection of electricity and natural gas grids, implementation of viable renewable energy projects, and sharing of experiences, knowledge and information on energy efficiency programs. This sector conducts its business through BIMSTEC Energy Ministers’ Meeting, Senior Officials Meeting on Energy (SOM-E) and Task Force/Expert Group Meetings. Energy Ministers suppose to meet once every two years. some is suppose to meet at least once a year to follow up on energy sector and cooperation.
Transport and Communication-Led by India
BIMSTEC Members have recognized the importance to create air, sea, and land linkages among the Member States. The 1st Meeting of the BIMSTEC Expert Group on Transport and Communication Sector in April 2001, New Delhi discuss issues. Issues include Transportation and Cross-border Facilitation, Multimodal Transport and Logistics, Infrastructure Development, Aviation, Maritime Transport, HRD, as well as Communication Linkages and Networking.
Tourism- led by India
The Second BIMSTEC Tourism Ministers’ Roundtable and Workshop complete in Kathmandu, Nepal on 29th August 2006 and agree to establish a BIMSTEC Tourism Working Group to follow up the progress on Plan of Action. The Working Group consisting of representatives of National Tourism Organizations and private stakeholders of tourism industry from all Member State decide on the program priorities, expenditure of BIMSTEC Tourism Fund, preparation of concrete proposals and also follow ups the progress on the Plan of Action. Accordingly, the First Meeting of BIMSTEC Tourism Working Group held in India on 23rd September 2013where it was decided to set up the Tourism Fund with one-time contribution of by each Member State which will be supporting the activities approved by the Tourism Working Group. BIMSTEC Information Centre administers the BIMSTEC Tourism Fund.
Fisheries- led by Thailand
The 1st Fisheries Expert Group Meeting was held in Thailand on 5th to 7th February 2001. The meeting agreed to adopt the Term of Reference of the BIMSTEC Sectoral Committee on Fisheries. Consequently, the Department of Fishery of Thailand proposed the “Ecosystem-based Fishery Management in the Bay of Bengal” as a priority project of this sector, while Bangladesh proposed 2 other relevant projects, namely the “Study on Impact of Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling on the Marine Fisheries Resource in Bay of Bengal” and “Marine Fisheries Stock Assessment, Management and Development of New Fisheries in Bay of Bengal”.
The Ecosystem and Fishery Management in the Bay of Bengal in December 2007 publishes its full report. Thailand hosts another Expert Group Meeting. 3 projects discussion took place simultaneously on 5th -7th September 2005. Thailand also hosted Workshop on Fisheries Cooperation was held on 8th -10th May 2007 in Phuket. The workshop aimed to have consultation among BIMSTEC Countries about the past and future cooperation on fisheries.
Agriculture- led by Myanmar
The sector deepens its cooperation among the Member States through BIMSTEC Experts Group Meeting on Agricultural Cooperation (EGMAC) and conduct of other businesses related to this sector.
The 3rd BIMSTEC Expert Group Meeting on Agricultural Cooperation was held in Kandy, Sri Lanka and identified the following Nine (9) Common Projects for implementation under this sector:
- Collaboration in research and development of power generation and utilization of alternative energy crops to promote cost effective bio-fuel production at community level;
- Encouraging private sector participation, especially, in value-chain management for agricultural products;
- Strengthening of Agriculture Statistical Information System and its networks;
- Workshop on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP);
- The development of Agricultural bio-technology including bio-safety;
- Preventing and Control of trans-boundary animal diseases;
- Affiliation of agricultural universities, veterinary universities, and agricultural research institutes;
- Development of seed sector in BIMSTEC Member States;
- Workshop(s) on improving Agricultural Trade and Investment.
Cultural Cooperation-led By Bhutan
Firstly, the BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting on Culture was held from 23rd -25th May 2006 in Paro, Bhutan. Furthermore, the Ministerial Meeting was preceded by the First Meeting of BIMSTEC Culture Secretaries/Experts from 22nd–23rdMay2006. The Meeting of BIMSTEC Culture Secretaries/Experts focused their deliberations on the Concept Paper on Cultural Industries presented by Bhutan.
The Concept Paper articulates a vision, identifies opportunities, drivers and strategies. This serves as a roadmap for socio-economic development, driven by creative cultural industries of the BIMSTEC region. In this regard, the Meeting emphasize the need for the development. Furthermore, it emphasizes promotion of cultural industries towards poverty reduction and community vitalization.
Environment & Disaster Management-led By India
The Eighth meeting held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, December 2005, adds Environment and Disaster Management. Disaster Management has now become a high priority area of cooperation for BIMSTEC. The region is amongst the most disaster prone regions in the world. It is home to almost one fourth of the World’s total population. Objectives of establishing this center are to:
- promote and encourage cooperation between BIMSTEC members. Fundamental and scientific research in weather prediction and climate modeling areas identification.
- promote scientific capacity building in weather and climate research.
- encourage and assist the publication of important results of research obtained within the framework of the BIMSTEC cooperation on weather and climate.
The Centre has been functioning in National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF), Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India.
Public Health-led By Thailand
The Summit discussed the necessity of supporting the cooperation on Biodiversity for an efficient use of various natural resources found in the member countries in order to strengthen the existing cooperation. The Summit also considered the issues of giving legal protection and the agreement to establish a network of national centers of excellence in the field of traditional medication for helping the impoverished. Thailand has accepted to lead this sector which includes the issue of generic drugs production as well.
In the 8th Ministerial Meeting, Thailand propose that this sector of cooperation elevates into a comprehensive cooperation on Public health. Due to the concern that public health problem has been an important factor that directly effect the region’s economy and well being of the people.
So far, Thailand hosted the 1st BIMSTEC Network of National Center of Coordination in Traditional Medicine: Traditional Medicine Development on 29th -30th Aug 2006, Bangkok.
People to People Contact-led By Thailand
One of the issues emphasized in the BIMSTEC Summit was the interaction amongst the people in the BIMSTEC member countries through various exchange programs. Consequently, a part of the joint declaration in the Summit state. People-to-people contact needs to support support through different exchange projects.
Before the Summit, Thailand started this cooperation by arranging the 1st BIMSTEC Youth Football Competition in February 2004 in Phuket. Accordingly, as a response to the requests made at the Summit, the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs has initiated 4 projects aiming to promote people-to-people contact as follow:
Exploring BIMSTEC Cultural Ties in Thailand:
It aims to enhance BIMSTEC cooperation in many sectors. BIMSTEC ambassador to Thailand, their representatives, official and media members were invited to a 3-day trip to Sukhothai, Phisanulok and Ayudaya during 11-13 February 2005
BIMSTEC Young Ambassador Program:
The program had been on hold since 2006 aiming to increase an awareness of BIMSTEC among the general public. So far, there are two groups of BIMSTEC Young Ambassador, 2005 and 2006.
Getting to know the new BIMSTEC Member:
Trip to Nepal and Bhutan was held during 3-10 September 2005. Delegations of officials, expert on history, arts and culture in Thailand and BIMSTEC Young Ambassadors were formed. Finally, they traveled to the 2 new member countries to establish connections and exchange experiences.
BIMSTEC Week Exhibition:
10 Years of BIMSTEC Friendship and Cooperation was held during 20 – 24 June 2007 at Thailand Knowledge Park (TK park), Central World Plaza. The exhibition contained presentation boards on the history and development of BIMSTEC, as well as booths of BIMSTEC countries will be displayed. Numerous activities organize daily in this area to stimulate interaction and participation from the visitors. In addition, there had Mini Theater 1 and 2 which showed the works of art of the 10 renowned Thai artists and experts who have joined in MFA’s projects the Walk of Wisdom and Getting to Know the New BIMSTEC Members, and ran VCD/DVD presentations of BIMSTEC countries.
BIMSTEC Exhibition was held on 8 June 2008 at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Thailand.
Poverty Alleviation-led By Nepal
The BIMSTEC Meeting on Poverty Alleviation held after the 9th Ministerial Meeting convened on 9 August 2006 in New Delhi. At the Meeting, Nepal receive offer to Lead Country for this section. Bangladesh offered to host the First Ministerial Meeting. Dhaka’s proposal on vast experience with poverty alleviation initiatives such as the micro-credit received approval. They emphasized the importance of empowerment, including education and self-employment. Also, Rural development, access to credit, the role of women, and making poor people bankable. Furthermore, they recognized the need to improve health care and the involvement of the private sector. They agree to take these experiences in Ministerial Meeting on Poverty Eradication.
In addition, Thailand’s “Sufficiency Economy” philosophy, offer to share information. It is a successful model already successful in Thai economic development that is valuable in combating poverty.
Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime-led By India
Firstly, the BIMSTEC in 1997, discuss on peace and progress. Subsequently the Leaders identified the fight against terrorism and organized crime is important to maintain growth and peace.
Further, the sector conducts its business through the Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crimes (CTTC). There are six Sub-Groups, each working on a specific aspect of CTTC cooperation. Also, they all report to the BIMSTEC Joint Working on CTTC.
Climate Change-led By Bangladesh
BIMSTEC Recognizes the threats posed by climate change on the lives and livelihoods of peoples across the BIMSTEC region. BIMSTEC Member States include Climate Change as the 14th Priority area of cooperation. It includes in the 14th Senior Officials’ Meeting held in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar on 10th December 2009.
The BIMSTEC region is exposes to the growing phenomena of climate change. The poorest and most vulnerable members of society experience its harshest effects. Climate change increases the melting of Himalayan glaciers increasing floods and landslides and also rise in sea level. In the Third BIMSTEC Summit held in Myanmar on 4th March 2014, Leaders agreed to explore collaborative initiatives. The initiative implements measures to address impacts of Climate Change in the BIMSTEC region.
Nepal and BIMSTEC
Currently, Nepal is the chair of BIMSTEC and SAARC. So it has a huge responsibility to play a dynamic and impactful role in the region. As the host, Nepal government has left no stone unturned to make the regional jamboree a grand success. The Summit offered a golden opportunity for the nation to spread a positive image in the international community. The country has come out of a prolonged transition with the new government striving to achieve durable stability.
The Summit is an occasion to build confidence and attract more foreign investment that Nepal badly needs at the moment. Most of BIMSTEC goals support Nepal’s quest of attaining the democratic order and balanced and rapid economic development. The just concluded summit has presented hopes and optimism with tangible results for regional cooperation. In the main areas of extensive networks for connectivity, trade, tourism, investment, cultural exchanges and people-to-people contacts.
The landlocked mountainous countries of Nepal suffer particularly from poor infrastructure as a result of difficult topography. Consequently, the country depend on road transport for trade and confront with several bottlenecks which increase trade costs. In fact, A World Bank study shows that Nepal face much higher transportation costs. And require more time and paperwork for exports and imports. The 165 km Koshi Navigation Canal can link Chhatra in Nepal with Kursela in Biharand thus with National Waterway-1.
Nepal could also use multi-modal transport to access the nearby terminals at Kursela and Kalughat in place of Haldia port. This reduces transportation costs by at least one-third according to a World Bank study. So, Nepal benefits from the agreements and commitments of the summit. Moreover, two of its outcomes—agreements on the hydropower business and measures to mitigate the problem of climate change. Hence, the summit has opened a way for expanding transmission line among the member countries. Finally, this means Nepal can sell power to Bangladesh and even Thailand.