- GS-2: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests
BIMSTEC after the Colombo summit
Context: The fifth summit of the regional grouping, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) was held virtually in Colombo on March 30.
- It is a regional organisation comprising seven Member States: five deriving from South Asia, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and two from Southeast Asia, including Myanmar and Thailand.
- This sub-regional organisation came into being on 6 June 1997 through the Bangkok Declaration (25th Anniversary in 2022)
- It member countries consists of 21.7% of the world’s population with combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of USD 3.8 trillion (only 4% of the global GDP)
What were the key Highlights of the Summit?
- BIMSTEC Charter was the main outcome of the summit. It presents BIMSTEC as “an inter-governmental organization” with “legal personality.”
- It has an emblem, it has a flag.
- It has a formally listed purpose and principles that it is going to adhere to.
- The grouping re-constituted and reduced the number of sectors of cooperation from the unwieldy 14 to a more manageable seven. Each member-state will serve as a lead for a sector
- Trade, investment and development (Bangladesh);
- Environment and climate change (Bhutan);
- Security, including energy (India);
- Agriculture and food security (Myanmar);
- People-to-people contacts (Nepal); s
- Science, technology and innovation (Sri Lanka)
- connectivity (Thailand).
- The summit participants adopted the Master Plan for Transport Connectivity applicable for 2018-2028. It lists 264 projects entailing a total investment of $126 billion. Projects worth $55 billion are under implementation.
- Three new agreements signed by member states, relating to mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, cooperation between diplomatic academies, and the establishment of a technology transfer facility.
- India will provide the (BIMSTEC) secretariat USD 1 million US dollars to increase its operational budget.
- The organisation decided to host a summit every two years
- 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.
- The need for expansion of connectivity was stressed by one and all, but when it comes to finalising legal instruments for coastal shipping, road transport and intra-regional energy grid connection, much work remains unfinished.
- As security and economic development are interrelated, it is essential to ensure an equitable balance between the two pillars.
- Thailand and India will need to be astute in managing Myanmar’s engagement until the political situation there becomes normal.
- 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 MSMEs.
- Personal engagement of the political leadership should be stepped up.
- In the medium term, an annual summit should be the goal, with an informal retreat built into its programme.
- BIMSTEC needs greater visibility. India’s turn to host the G20 leaders’ summit in 2023 presents an opportunity. Perhaps all its members should be invited to the G20 summit as the chair’s special guests.
Connecting the dots: