- GS-2: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
- GS-2: India and its neighborhood- relations.
- Bangkok Declaration of 1997: Established as a grouping of four nations — India, Thailand, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka — through the Bangkok Declaration of 1997 to promote rapid economic development, BIMSTEC was expanded later to include three more countries — Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan.
- Alternative to SAARC: New Delhi chose to treat it as a more practical instrument for regional cooperation over a faltering SAARC.
- The shared goal now is to head towards “a Peaceful, Prosperous and Sustainable Bay of Bengal Region”.
- Bilateral Issues: A strong BIMSTEC presupposes cordial and tension-free bilateral relations among all its member-states. This has not been the case, given the trajectory of India-Nepal, India-Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh-Myanmar ties in recent years.
- Uncertainties over SAARC complicating matters: Both Kathmandu and Colombo want the SAARC summit revived, even as they cooperate within BIMSTEC, with diluted zeal.
- China’s increasing footprint in subcontinent: China’s decisive intrusion in the South-Southeast Asian space has cast dark shadows about the cohesiveness of the grouping on issues like trade pacts, investments & security.
- Rohingya Refugee Crisis: The military coup in Myanmar, brutal crackdown of protesters and continuation of popular resistance have produced a new set of challenges.
- Untapped potential of Business cooperation: It lacks an effort to enthuse and engage the vibrant business communities of these seven countries, and expand their dialogue, interactions and transactions.
- Poor implementation of FTA: BIMSTEC Free Trade Area Framework Agreement, signed in 2004, are yet to bear fruit. In contrast, much has been achieved in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief and security, including counterterrorism, cyber security, and coastal security cooperation.
- Reinvent: The grouping needs to reinvent itself, possibly even rename itself as ‘The Bay of Bengal Community’.
- Comprehensive Economic Agreement: BIMSTEC urgently needs a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement to be a real game changer. Ideally it should cover trade in goods, services and investment; promote regulatory harmonisation; adopt policies that develop regional value chains; and eliminate non-tariff barriers.
- Political will & Regular Meetings: It should consider holding regular annual summits. Only then will its leaders convince the region about their strong commitment to the new vision they have for this unique platform linking South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Connecting the dots:
- Do you think BIMSTEC has the real potential to transform the collective future of South Asia? Examine. What are the challenges therein? Discuss.