BIMSTEC Summit 2018: Outcomes and Analysis

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The fourth Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technological and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Summit concluded in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu with a resolve by all the seven member nations to put up a joint fight against terrorism and terror networks.

In the 18-point joint declaration issued at the end of their Summit, BIMSTEC leaders also called upon all countries to devise a comprehensive approach to prevent financing of terrorists and terrorist actions from their territories, blocking recruitment and cross border movement of terrorists and countering misuse of the internet for purposes of terrorism.

BIMSTEC leaders also discussed the issue of connectivity. They reiterated their commitment to establish seamless multi-dimensional linkages ranging from physical connectivity such as rail, road, waterways and airways to digital connectivity.

The BIMSTEC leaders renewed their commitment to expedite Free Trade Area (FTA) Agreement and to revitalise the activities of their Business and Economic Forums to further strengthen cooperation between governments and the private sector in the region.

They also agreed to explore the possibility of setting up a BIMSTEC Development Fund with voluntary contributions from member states for research and financing of projects, programmes and other activities as agreed upon by member states.

The Kathmandu Summit emphasised the need to review and restructure their existing areas of cooperation and to accelerate progress in core sectors. Thailand presented a concept paper on Reprioritization of Pillars of Cooperation identifying five vital areas of cooperation which would be further discussed by Permanent Working Committee. At their third Summit in March 2014 in the Myanmar capital Nay Pyi Taw, India had made out a case for focus on five priority areas; connectivity, terrorism, energy, trade and economic cooperation and people to people exchanges.

BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the establishment of ‘BIMSTEC Grid interconnection’ in the presence of their heads of States or governments. It will bolster energy cooperation for optimal utilization of energy resources of the member nations. The leaders also discussed poverty alleviation, agriculture, fisheries, tourism, public health and for enhancing cooperation in culture and people to people contacts.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi met leaders of BIMSTEC nations on the sidelines of the Summit and assured them of India’s continued support to regional cooperation in line with its ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East’ policies. Addressing the Summit Mr. Modi emphasised the need for enhanced connectivity in all spheres – trade, economy, transport, digital and people to people contacts and expressed India’s commitment to work closely with the member countries in combating terrorism and drug trafficking. The next BIMSTEC Summit is to be held in Sri Lanka.

Background:

The BIMSTEC nations which share the coasts of Bay of Bengal or are in the vicinity of it are India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Home to nearly 22 percent of the world population, BIMSTEC came into existence in June 1997 with the common intention of making the region peaceful, prosperous and sustainable by promoting deeper cooperation in identified core areas through collective efforts.

BIMSTEC had originally identified 14 areas for mutual cooperation. These included trade, investment, transportation and communications, energy, tourism, agriculture and terrorism. But it did not make tardy progress in any of the issues due to many domestic issues plaguing member states of the BIMSTEC.

Only three Summits were held prior to the Kathmandu Summit in 21 years of its existence. In the face of a virtual stalemate in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) because of terrorism links of Pakistan and the Border and Roads Initiative by China; BIMSTEC leaders felt the need to revitalise the regional grouping. India being the largest country in the grouping took the initiative in this regard.

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