BAY OF BENGAL INITIATIVE FOR MULTI-SECTORAL TECHNICAL AND ECONOMIC COOPERATION (BIMSTEC)

BAY OF BENGAL INITIATIVE FOR MULTI-SECTORAL TECHNICAL AND ECONOMIC COOPERATION (BIMSTEC)

 

Basic and Backgrounds

  • The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) was established in 1997 Bangkok Declaration with secretariat in Dhaka.
  • Its members lie in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal constituting a contiguous regional unity.
  • BIMSTEC not only connects South and Southeast Asia, but also the ecologies of the Great Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal.
  • It mainly aims to create an enabling environment for rapid economic development; accelerate social progress; and promote collaboration on matters of common interest in the region.

Member Countries

  • Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan (No Maldives, Afghanistan, Pakistan)
  • The BIMSTEC countries are home to a population of around 1.5 billion, approximately 21 % of global population, with a cumulative GDP of US$ 2.5 trillion. The annual GDP growth rate has averaged around 6 %.

Permanent Secretariat & Chairmanship

  • The BIMSTEC Permanent Secretariatat Dhaka was opened in 2014 and India contributes 33% of its expenditure.
  • The current Secretary General of the BIMSTEC is Ambassador Mohammad Shahidul Islam from Bangladesh and the former Secretary General was Sumith Nakandala from Sri Lanka.
  • The BIMSTEC uses the alphabetical order for the Chairmanship. The Chairmanship of the BIMSTEC has been taken in rotation commencing with Bangladesh (1997–1999).

Evolution

  • This sub-regional organization came into being in 1997 through the Bangkok Declaration.
  • Initially, it was formed with four Member States with the acronym ‘BIST-EC’(Bangladesh, India, Sri-Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation).
  • It became renamed ‘BIMST-EC’in 1997, following the inclusion of Myanmar.
  • With the admission of Nepal and Bhutan in 2004, the name of the grouping was changed to ‘Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation’ (BIMSTEC).

Objective

  • Technical and economic cooperation among members.
  • Encouraging the spirit of equality and partnership.
  • Promoting active collaboration and mutual assistance in the areas of common interests of the member countries
  • Accelerating support for each other in the fields of education, science, and technology, etc.
  • Act as a bridge between South and South East Asia and represents a reinforcement of relations among these countries

Important Facts

  • Bridge between South and South East Asiaand represents a reinforcement of relations among these countries.
  • Platform for intra-regional cooperation between SAARC and ASEAN
  • Home to around 1.5 billion people that constitute around 22% of the global population.
  • With a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of 2.7 trillion economy, BIMSTEC Member States have been able to sustain an average 5% economic growth trajectory in the last five years.
  • A fourth of the world’s traded goods cross the bay every year.

Previous BIMSTEC Summit

  • 1st Summit (2004) – Bangkok (Thailand)
  • 2nd Summit (2008) – New Delhi (India)
  • 3rd Summit (2014) – Nay Pyi Daw (Myanmar)
  • 4th Summit (2018) – Kathmandu (Nepal)
  • 5th Summit (2022) – Colombo (Sri Lanka)

Priority Areas

  • A sector-driven cooperative organization – total 14 sectors.
  • Each Country leads some of the sector.
  • India is the lead country for following sectors:
Transportation  And Communication

Tourisim

Enviornment And Disaster Mangement

Counter Tourism And Transistional Crime

 

Institutional Mechanisms

  • BIMSTEC Summit –highest policymaking body in BIMSTEC process and is comprised of heads of state/government of member states.
  • Ministerial Meeting –second apex policy-making forum of BIMSTEC attended by the External/Foreign Ministers of Member States.
  • Senior Officials’ Meeting –represented by Senior Officials of Foreign Ministries of the Member States.
  • BIMSTEC Working Group –attended by Ambassadors of BIMSTEC Member Countries to Bangladesh or their representatives on a monthly basis at the BIMSTEC Secretariat in Dhaka.
  • Business Forum & Economic Forum –the two important forums to ensure active participation of private sector.

BIMSTEC Free Trade Area Framework Agreement

  • The BIMSTEC Free Trade Area Framework Agreement (BFTAFA)has been signed by all member nations to stimulate trade and investment in the parties, and attract outsiders to trade with and invest in the BIMSTEC countries at a higher level.
  • Subsequently, the “Trade Negotiating Committee”(TNC) was set up, with Thailand as the permanent chair, to negotiate in areas of trade in goods and services, investment, economic co-operation, trade facilitations and technical assistance for LDCs.
  • The BIMSTEC Coastal Shipping Agreementdraft was discussed on 1 December 2017 in New Delhi, to facilitate coastal shipping within 20 nautical miles of the coastline in the region to boost trade between the member countries.
  • Compared to the deep sea shipping, coastal ship require smaller vessels with lesser draft and involve lower costs.
  • Once the agreement becomes operational after it is ratified, a lot of cargo movement between the member countries can be done through the cost effective, environment friendly and faster coastal shipping routes.
  • On 7th and 8th of November, 2019, the first ever BIMSTEC Conclave of Portssummit was held in Visakhapatnam, India.
  • The main aims of this summit is providing a platform to strengthen maritime interaction, port-led connectivity initiatives and sharing best practices among member countries.

Principles of BIMSTEC

  • Sovereign Equality
  • Territorial Integrity
  • Political Independence
  • No-interference in Internal Affairs
  • Peaceful Co- existence
  • Mutual Benefit
  • Constitute an addition to and not be a substitute for bilateral, regional or multilateral cooperation involving the Member States.

Connectivity Project

  1. Kaladan Multimodal Project – links India and Myanmar
    • Agreement was signed in 2008. Construction began in 2010. But inadequate funds and poor planning led to delays. Objective is to complete the project in 2019.
    • The project will provide an alternate access route to the North Eastern region of India.
    • The project aims to create a multi-modal mode of transport for shipment of cargo from the eastern ports of India to Myanmar as well as to the North-Eastern part of India through Myanmar.
    • It will connect Kolkata port with Sittwe port in Myanmar by sea, and then link Sittwe seaport to Lashio in Myanmar via Kaladan river via inland water transport and then from Lashio to Mizoram in India by road transport.
    • When completed, the KMTT will shorten the current time taken to transport goods from Kolkata to Mizoram by three-four days, and the distance by around 950 km. KMMT is hailed as “Future gateway to South East Asia”.
  1. Asian Tri-lateral Highway
    • The 1360 kms long India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway is an initiative pertaining to India, Myanmar and Thailand. India is undertaking construction of two sections of the Trilateral Highway in Myanmar namely,
      1. Kalewa-Yagyi road section
      2. Tamu-Kyigone-Kalewa (TKK) road section
    • The above mentioned projects are funded by Government of India under Grant Assistance to the Government of Myanmar.
    • The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway is a highway under construction under India’s Look East Policy that will connect Moreh, India with Mae Sot, Thailand via Myanmar.
    • The road will boost the trade and commerce in the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area, and with the rest of Southeast Asia. India has also proposed extending the highway to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Look East Policy

  • India’s Look East Policyis an effort being made by the Indian government to cultivate and strengthen economic and strategic relations with the nations of Southeast Asia in order to solidify its standing as a regional power.
  • This policy also serves to position India as a counterweight to the strategic influence of the People’s Republic of Chinain the region.

 

  1. Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicles Agreement
    • Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) had signed a framework MVA in June 2015to enable movement of passenger and cargo vehicles across borders among the four countries.
    • Bhutan has not yet ratified the pact for its entry to come into force.
    • However, Bhutan had given its consent for the BBIN MVA to enter into force amongst the other 3 countries i.e. Bangladesh, India and Nepal, who have already ratified it.
    • The main objective of the agreement is to provide seamless people-to-people contact and enhance economic interaction by facilitating cross border movement of people and goods.
    • The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has been providing technical, advisory, and financial support to the BBIN MVA initiative as part of its assistance to the South Asia Sub regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) program, a projects-based economic cooperation initiative that brings together the BBIN countries, Maldives, Sri Lanka and more recently, Myanmar.

BIMSTEC Disaster Management Exercise (BIMSTEC-DMEx) 2020

  • The 2nd BIMSTEC Disaster Management Exercise (BIMSTEC-DMEx) 2020 is a 3-day exercise that discussed standardization of protocol, formulation of policy and guidelines for protection of heritage sites during disasters and their conservation post-disaster.
  • It was attended by five (out of seven) member nations Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Nepal at Puri, Odisha. Thailand and Bhutan did not participate.
  • National Disaster Response Force hosted BIMSTEC- DMEx 2020.

Tourism:

  • Tourism has rich potential in the BIMSTEC region, as this region is home to ancient civilizations with deep civilization and cultural linkages, several historic monuments, and natural splendour.
  • BIMSTEC Tourism Information Centre was established in July 2007 in Delhi to create a Network of Tour Operators among the BIMSTEC Member States to promote tourism in the region including the Buddhist Tourist Circuit and luxury cruise.
  • India hosted the First Meeting of this Network on 7 July 2017 in New Delhi where it was decided to work on common marketing strategies, creation of the brand BIMSTEC for tourism; creation of BIMSTEC specific products; promoting Public Private Partnerships; developing and sharing of common safety protocols and development of common circuits and cruise tourism.

Significance for India

  • Allows India to pursue three core policies:
    • Neighborhood First – primacy to the country’s immediate periphery;
    • Act East – connect India with Southeast Asia; and
    • Economic development of India’s north eastern states – by linking them to the Bay of Bengal region via Bangladesh and Myanmar.
  • Allows India to counter China’s creeping influence in countries around the Bay of Bengal due to the spread of its Belt and Road Initiative.
  • A new platform for India to engage with its neighbors with South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) becoming dysfunctional because of differences between India and Pakistan.
  • BIMSTEC Leader’s Retreat The BIMSTEC Leader’s Retreat hosted by India in Goa in October 2016 served as an important impetus to BIMSTEC. The “Agenda of Action” – A robust policy agenda agreed during the Retreat was meant to translate the shared commitment into delivery of specific, people oriented initiatives to achieve greater connectivity, trade, people-to-people contacts, and sustainable use of resources which is being steadily implemented.

Criticisms

  • India’s engagement with them has been mostly episodic and ad hoc. We have not created the capacity to engage with our neighbors on a sustained basis and at multiple levels.
  • BCIM & Belt and Road Initiative –The formation of another sub-regional initiative beside China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Forum, with the proactive membership of China, has created more doubts about the exclusive potential of BIMSTEC.
  • Delivery Deficit – India’s own resources are limited, but more than that its record of delivery on commitments continues to be abysmal.
  • Neglect by member states –It seems that India has used BIMSTEC only when it fails to work through SAARC in the regional setting and other major members like Thailand and Myanmar are focused more towards ASEAN than BIMSTEC.
  • Broad Focus Areas –The focus of BIMSTEC is very wide, including 14 areas of cooperation like connectivity, public health, agriculture It is suggested that BIMSTEC should remain committed to small focus areas and cooperate in them efficiently.
  • Same projects reappearing as “fresh initiatives” in serial joint statements over recent years. Our capacities and institutions continue to lag behind our ambitions. It is time to move from an event-oriented to a process-driven approach
  • Bilateral Issues between Member Nations –Bangladesh is facing one of the worst refugee crisis of Rohingyas from Myanmar who are fleeing prosecution in the state of Rakhine in Myanmar. There is a border conflict between Myanmar and Thailand.
  • No FTA –BIMSTEC FTA was negotiated in 2004, talks on it are yet to be concluded.

BIMSTEC vs. SAARC

SAARC BIMSTEC
A regional organisation looking into South Asia.

 

Inter-regional organisation connecting South Asia and South East Asia
Established in 1985; a product of the Cold War era. Established in 1997 in the post-Cold War period.
Member countries suffer for mistrust and suspicion. Members maintain reasonably friendly relations.
Suffers from regional politics. Core objective is the improvement of economic cooperation among countries.
Asymmetric power balance. Balancing of power with the presence of Thailand and India on the bloc.
Intra-regional trade only 5%. Intra-regional trade has increased around 6% in a decade.

 

Way Forward

  • Forge practical cooperation in six areas, to start with: trade and investment, connectivity, energy, tourism, counter-terrorism, and Blue Economy.
  • Security challenges must be addressed through a realistic programme, but the grouping’s principal focus must remain on social and economic development.
  • BIMSTEC needs to produce a few visible results or successes in the short term. Concluding the protracted negotiations for a FTA in goods, and later, services, and investment, is the way forward.
  • Without an appropriate FTA, the grouping will continue to be perceived as an empty shell.
  • BIMSTEC must now move into a rapid implementation stage, for which the necessary resources should be injected into the Dhaka-based secretariat.
  • It will be prudent to divert resources from less critical areas to BIMSTEC to realise its undisputed potential as a sub-regional organization and a strategic vehicle for India’s foreign-policy goals.