The seven countries that are part of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) should speed up negotiations on a free trade agreement, Shahidul Islam, its secretary general says. The members of 20 year old BIMSTEC are India, Bangladesh, Bhutan Nepal, Sri Lanka Myanmar and Thailand.
In a special address, after releasing a report by industry chamber FICCI on 'Reinvigorating BIMSTEC: An Industry Vision for the Next Decade', Islam said that concerted efforts for greater political commitment, expeditious negotiations on BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement, adequate funding, BIMSTEC special visas and closer people-to-people contacts can only rejuvenate the regional group.
FTAs are no panacea for development, but they represent a crucial first step towards spurring growth and development in the region, he said. Islam informed that Bangladesh, which hosts BIMSTEC secretariat, has agreed to hold the next round of trade negotiations for concluding the BIMSTEC FTA. The BIMSTEC Secretariat, he said, needed to be adequately financed as its present budget is a mere $1 million.
The FICCI Knowledge report on reinvigorating BIMSTEC suggests funding of $2 billion from India and $1 billion from other member states. "This is the kind of commitment is required" to give a fillip to generating meaningful activities in the region, Islam said.
The FICCI report calls for the creation of a new 'BIMSTEC' by strengthening infrastructure linkages, deepening regional transport connectivity, facilitating cross-border trade, investment and tourism, protecting the environment and promoting sustainable use of shared natural resources in the BIMSTEC economies.
"Government-business interface in the functioning of BIMSTEC has remained weak and ineffective. It needs to be strengthened and institutionalised to enable it to produce better results," the report said. It wanted BIMSTEC members to set up a BIMSTEC Business Council on the lines of a similar mechanism that exists in BRICS to facilitate better economic activities within the region.
"The BIMSTEC grouping is home to 1.5 billion people, approximately 22 per cent of the world population and with a combined GDP of close to $2.7 trillion. Together, the member nations have untapped economic potential to catapult regional trade and investment to the next level and provide a framework to achieve sustainable development. The FICCI Core Group report strives to understand the key drivers of the development paradigm for the region and identify the contours of an economically feasible and result driven approach for BIMSTEC to achieve sustained progress. To fulfil this vision, all stakeholders concerned have to work together for a stable, prosperous and integrated neighbourhood," Rashesh Shah, FICCI president, said.
The FICCI Core Group has recommended strategic thrusts in select priority sectors to make BIMSTEC a result-oriented, effective and influential institution. This could be achieved by concluding negotiations for free trade agreements and trade facilitation, strengthening infrastructure linkages, deepening regional transport connectivity, facilitating cross-border trade and investment, and tourism, enhancing private sector participation and competitiveness, supporting regional power trading, developing human resources through mutual cooperation, protecting the environment and promoting sustainable use of shared natural resources, creating the Bay of Bengal Community (BoBC) and, promoting all-round cooperation in 'soft power' areas.