BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting

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    In News 

    • Recently, the Minister of External Affairs of India  participated in the 18th BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting in Colombo. 

    More In News 

    • India emphasised the grouping’s commitment to intensify and expand areas of cooperation, especially connectivity, energy and maritime cooperation.
      • Cooperation on port facilities, ferry services, coastal shipping, grid connectivity and motor vehicles movement are key.

    BIMSTEC

    • About: 
      • The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a regional organisation that was established on 06 June 1997 with the signing of the Bangkok Declaration.
      • Initially known as BIST-EC (Bangladesh-India-Sri Lanka-Thailand Economic Cooperation), the organisation is now known as BIMSTEC and comprises seven Member States with the admission of Myanmar on 22 December 1997, and Bhutan and Nepal in February 2004.
    • The grouping holds annual meetings hosted by member states based on alphabetical rotation. Sri Lanka is the host nation this time.
    • Focused Sectors:
      • Being a sector-driven grouping, cooperation within BIMSTEC had initially focused on six sectors in 1997 (trade, technology, energy, transport, tourism, and fisheries) and expanded in 2008 to incorporate agriculture, public health, poverty alleviation, counter-terrorism, environment, culture, people-to-people contact, and climate change.
      • Subsequently, following steps to rationalise and reorganise sectors and sub-sectors, cooperation was reorganised in 2021 under the following sectors and sub-sectors led by the respective Member States:

    Image Courtesy: BIMSTEC

    Purposes of BIMSTEC

    • To create an enabling environment for rapid economic development through identification and implementation of specific cooperation projects in the already agreed areas of cooperation and such other areas that may be agreed upon by the Member States. 
    •  To accelerate the economic growth and social progress in the Bay of Bengal region through joint endeavours in a spirit of equality and partnership.
    • To promote active collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest in the economic, social, technical and scientific fields.
    • To provide assistance to each other in the form of training and research facilities in the educational, professional and technical spheres.
    • To cooperate more effectively in joint efforts that are supportive of and complementary to national development plans of the Member States which result in tangible benefits to the people in raising their living standards, including through generating employment and improving transportation and communication infrastructure.
    • To cooperate in projects that can be dealt with most productively on a regional basis among the BIMSTEC Member States and that make best use of available synergies.
    • To maintain peace and stability in the Bay of Bengal region through close collaboration in combating international terrorism, transnational organized crimes as well as natural disasters, climate change and communicable diseases.
    • To maintain close and beneficial cooperation with existing international and regional organisations with similar aims and purposes.
    • To endeavour to eradicate poverty from the Bay of Bengal region.
    • To establish multidimensional connectivity, promote synergy among connectivity frameworks in the region, as a key enabler to economic integration for shared prosperity.
    • To promote trade and investment as a major contributing factor for fostering economic and social development in the region.

    Importance of BIMSTEC 

    •  The BIMSTEC region  brings together 1.67 billion people and a combined GDP of around US $  2.88 trillion.
    • The growing value of BIMSTEC and its attempt to generate synergy through collective efforts by member states can be understood, for three key reasons.
      • There is a greater appreciation of BIMSTEC’s potential due to geographical contiguity, abundant natural and human resources, and rich historical linkages and a cultural heritage for promoting deeper cooperation in the region.
      • The region has the potential to become the epicentre of the Indo-Pacific idea — a place where the strategic interests of the major powers of East and South Asia intersect.
      • It serves as a bridge between two major high-growth centres of Asia — South and Southeast Asia. 
        • Connectivity is essential to develop a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable Bay of Bengal region. 
          • The BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity will provide the necessary boost to connectivity. 

    India and BIMSTEC

    • BIMSTEC connects South and Southeast Asia and also the ecologies of the Great Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal. 
    • BIMSTEC has special significance for India in a changing mental map of the region. 
    • India has made the Bay of Bengal integral to India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ and ‘Act East’ policies which can accelerate the process of regional integration. BIMSTEC matters for India and the region.
    • BIMSTEC has huge potential as a natural platform for development cooperation in a rapidly changing geopolitical calculus and can leverage its unique position as a pivot in the Indo-Pacific region. 
    • India has implemented its promise to set up a Centre for Bay of Bengal Studies (CBS) at Nalanda University, Bihar for research on art, culture and other subjects related to the Bay of Bengal. 
    • The quest for economic growth and the development of the BIMSTEC region can be achieved with single-minded focus and cooperation among the member countries. 
      • In this endeavour, India has a key role in accelerating regional cooperation under the BIMSTEC framework and in making it vibrant, stronger and result-oriented.

    Challenges

    • Persisting organisational weaknesses: Inconsistent levels of commitment and a general ambiguity regarding how to engage with other institutional actors have been the key reasons hampering the functioning of the organisation.
    • Poor connectivity: It is troubled by poor road and rail connectivity, insufficient last-mile links and cumbersome customs and clearance procedures which hamper trade.
    • Lack of Cohesion & coordination: Cohesion among the members has been difficult to achieve mainly because of the Rohingya refugee crisis which created bitterness between Myanmar and Bangladesh. 
      • This affected the working of the organisation to some extent as it could not develop a common charter.
    • China’s financial hegemony: As China has undertaken a massive drive to finance and build infrastructure in South and Southeast Asia through the Belt and Road Initiative in almost all BIMSTEC countries, except Bhutan and India, BIMSTEC is a new battleground in the India-China battle for dominance.
    • Other issues 
      • The pressing challenges that confront the  region include the emergence of a dead zone with zero oxygen where no fish survive; leaching of plastic from rivers as well as the Indian Ocean; destruction of natural protection against floods such as mangroves; sea erosion; growing population pressure and industrial growth in the coastal areas and consequently, huge quantities of untreated waste flow.

    Conclusion and Way Forward 

    • BIMSTEC might be a viable option for India to maintain its foreign policy discourse. However, India will have to take into account the fact that in Asia, economics and politics have historically been deeply integrated, and not fall into the trap.
    • BIMSTEC  could develop codes of conduct that preserve freedom of navigation and apply existing law of the seas regionally. 
    • In addition, BIMSTEC could stem the region’s creeping militarisation by instituting, for instance, a Bay of Bengal Zone of Peace that seeks to limit any bellicose behaviour of extra-regional power.
    • BIMSTEC leaders should reinforce their commitments and efforts in building the momentum of collaborations in the Bay of Bengal region for the security and development of all.
    • BIMSTEC Nations must also collectively combat terrorism, violent extremism, transnational crime, cyber-attacks and narco-trafficking. 

    • The BIMSTEC Summit must create a new regional mechanism for coordinated activities on maritime issues of a transboundary nature. 
    • This mechanism must initiate urgent measures to strengthen fisheries management, promote sustainable fishing methods, establish protected areas and develop frameworks to prevent and manage pollution, especially industrial and agricultural waste as well as oil spills. 
    • There is also a need for greater scientific research on the impact of climate change in general and on fisheries in particular.
    •  Participatory approaches must be evolved for near-real-time stock assessment and the creation of an regional open fisheries data alliance
      • The Bay of Bengal Programme (BOBP), an inter-governmental organisation based in Chennai, is doing good work to promote sustainable fishing.
      • A Bay Of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem (BOBLME) project is also being launched by the FAO with funding from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and others. 
        • The BIMSTEC summit must express full support for both BOBP and BOBLME.

    Source:TH