• The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a group of seven countries that share a border with the Bay of Bengal and work together to solve technical and economic problems.
• It was created in 1997 when the Bangkok Declaration was signed by Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. • At first, there were four member states: Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Myanmar joined in 1997, and then Nepal and Bhutan joined in 2004.
• In 2017, BIMSTEC marked 20 years since it was formed.
Table of Contents
• South Asian countries that are members: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka
Myanmar and Thailand are in the South East. The group’s headquarters are in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
• To make it possible for the economy to grow quickly by finding and putting into action specific cooperation projects in the areas of trade, business, industry, technology, human resource development, tourism, agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and transportation.
• To work together in a fair and collaborative way to speed up economic growth and social progress in the sub-region.
• To encourage people to work together and help each other on things that are important to them in the economic, social, technical, and scientific areas.
• To help each other through training and study facilities in the fields of education, business, and technology.
• To work together more effectively on projects that support and complement the national development plans of Member States and bring real benefits to the people, such as creating jobs and improving the infrastructure for transport and communication.
• To keep working closely with foreign and regional organisations that have similar goals and work well together.
• To work together on projects that can be done most efficiently on a sub-regional level and to make the most of the connections between BIMSTEC member countries.
• It was created to promote shared and accelerated growth through cooperation in different areas of common interest. This is done by slowing down the effects of globalisation and making use of regional resources and geographical advantages. Some of these areas are energy, transportation, tourism, fighting terrorism, the environment, culture, bringing people together, climate change, farmland, reducing poverty, and so on.
• BIMSTEC cooperation will be based on the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in internal affairs, peaceful coexistence, and mutual benefit.
• BIMSTEC cooperation will be in addition to bilateral, regional, and multilateral cooperation between Member States, not a replacement for it.
BIMSTEC countries are home to about 1.5 billion people, or 22% of the world’s population. They have a total GDP of $3.5 trillion and are a bridge between South and South East Asia, which strengthens the relationships between these countries.
The Bay of Bengal could become the centre of the Indo-Pacific idea, a place where the strategic interests of the major powers of East and South Asia meet. BIMSTEC has set up a way for SAARC and ASEAN members to work together within the area.
• Every year, a quarter of the things traded around the world pass through the bay.
• The Kaladan Multimodal Project, which connects India and Myanmar, is an important connectivity project.
The Asian Trilateral Highway goes through Myanmar, which is in between India and Thailand.
The Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicles Agreement makes it easy for people and goods to move between these four countries.
Significance for India
• India is the largest member of BIMSTEC. Because of this, India needs to make BIMSTEC work well to show world leadership.
• Pakistan’s lack of unity in many areas has made SAARC almost useless as a group, so India has been putting more emphasis on BIMSTEC in recent years.
• BIMSTEC is a chance for India to work with countries in Southeast Asia.It gives India the chance to: Link directly to Southeast Asia through North-East India and Myanmar.
Myanmar could have access to alternative energy sources. The ASEAN region has economic prospects.
• Lets India carry out its three main policies: “Neighbourhood First,” which gives priority to the country’s near neighbours; “Act East,” which connects India to Southeast Asia; and “Economic development of India’s northeastern states” by connecting them to the Bay of Bengal region through Bangladesh and Myanmar.
• Gives India a new way to talk to its neighbours since the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is falling apart because of differences between India and Pakistan.
• “MILEX 2018,” the first BIMSTEC army drills, were recently held in Pune, India. This is a success because neither SAARC nor ASEAN have had a military part like this before.
In October 2016, the BRICS-BIMSTEC Outreach Summit was held in Goa. This shows how important BIMSTEC is to India.
• India has said that it wants to expand the UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik) scheme to BIMSTEC countries. • The group has identified 14 priority sectors and signed a Free Trade Agreement (in 2004) and a Convention on Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism, Transnational Organised Crime, and Illicit Drug Trafficking (in 2009).
• India has shown that it wants to be a part of the grouping again. It is already in charge of four important areas: transport and information, the environment and disaster management, tourism, and fighting terrorism and crimes that cross borders.
• BIMSTEC is trying to sign an agreement on helping each other in criminal cases.
• The Goa Declaration said that BIMSTEC needs a Coastal Shipping Agreement so that countries in the sub-region can trade with each other.
Issues and Challenges
• BIMSTEC has been struggling for a long time because its member states don’t have enough money and don’t work together well. This is despite the fact that it has a lot of promise to improve cooperation in the region. This is clear because there have only been four high-level meetings so far, and it took BIMSTEC 17 years to set up its permanent secretariat in Dhaka in 2014.
• Both Nepal and Thailand decided not to take part in MILEX 2018 and instead chose to stay on as observers. This shows that they are not interested in security dialogues or attempts to stop terrorism.
• Criticisms about individual countries: Thailand and Myanmar are called out for ignoring BIMSTEC in favour of ASEAN.
People have said that India, which has the most people in the group, doesn’t lead the group well enough.
• BIMSTEC was held back by the fact that it didn’t have a permanent secretariat for a long time and didn’t spend in a number of high-priority areas.
• Inconsistent talks: BIMSTEC planned to hold summits every two years and ministerial talks every year, but only four summits have happened in the 20 years up to 2018.
• Neglect by member states: It seems like India only uses BIMSTEC when it can’t work through SAARC in a regional setting, and other big members like Thailand and Myanmar are more focused on ASEAN than BIMSTEC.
• Broad Areas of Focus: BIMSTEC has 14 areas of cooperation, such as communication, public health, agriculture, etc., that are its main areas of focus. People think that BIMSTEC should stay focused on small areas and work well together in those areas.
• Issues between Member Nations: The Rohingya people of Myanmar are leaving the state of Rakhine because they are being persecuted there. This has caused one of the worst refugee crises in Bangladesh. Myanmar and Thailand are at odds over their shared border.
• BCIM: With China’s active participation in the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Forum, which is a new sub-regional effort, BIMSTEC’s ability to be the only one of its kind is becoming less clear.
• Not enough focus on economic cooperation: a quick look at the tasks that aren’t done and the new challenges shows how much the group has to do.
Even though BIMSTEC signed a framework deal for a Free Trade deal (FTA) in 2004, this goal is still a long way off.
Only two of the seven deals that make up the FTA are in place as of now.
• Unfinished Projects: The general ideas in the Colombo Declaration (from the fifth BIMSTEC Summit) don’t give me much hope that things will move forward quickly.
Even though people talk about how important it is to link more places, a lot of work still needs to be done to finish legal instruments for coastal shipping, road transport, and connecting intra-regional energy grids.
• India should take advantage of the renewed interest of the members by giving the group strong guidance and taking the lead. The projects that are already going on should be done well, and new ones should be started.
• For BIMSTEC to become a force for regional unity, it would have to change into a group that works from the bottom up instead of the top down.
• A people-centered method might work for BIMSTEC, which has a long way to go to catch up with ASEAN and other regional groups in terms of people-to-people contacts.
• For better application, the organisation needs to focus on a smaller number of key areas.
• At this point, projects should be taken on that are financially possible and will lead to results. This would give BIMSTEC more credibility and get its members more excited about what it does.
• The BIMSTEC area is known for how different it is. So, its member states should build on the synergies in the area and try to use the resources they have in the best way possible.
• Multilateral Discussions: Due to the complexity of internal and geopolitical factors, this area will need ongoing bilateral and group-level talks to make sure that problems like the Rohingya crisis don’t get in the way of achieving economic and security goals.
India will also have to make sure that its political relationships with partners like Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh are stable and long-lasting, so that internal political issues don’t affect bilateral and group-level work relationships.
India and the other members will also have to be smart about how they handle Myanmar’s participation until the political situation in the country returns to normal.
• Making it easier to connect and work together: India wants to make it easier for countries in the group to trade with each other. An FTA between coastal resource-rich countries like Myanmar and Sri Lanka could help India reach its goal.
In addition to the adopted Master Plan for Transport Connectivity, a “coastal shipping ecosystem” and an interconnected electricity grid could help trade and economic ties within the area.
Also, BIMSTEC needs to raise more money and push for the projects to be finished on time.
• India as the Bearer of the Flame: For the revived group to reach its trade and economic potential, India will have to take the lead in calming the fears of the smaller members about power imbalances within the group. India will also have to work to make it easier for people and goods to move across borders and for investments to flow between countries.
India was the only country at the summit to give more money to the Secretariat and back the Secretary General’s plan to set up an Eminent Persons Group (EPG) to write a vision document.
Other countries need to follow this example of saying what they mean and doing what they say.
• Other Focus Areas: In the future, BIMSTEC should pay more attention to new areas like the blue economy, the digital economy, and promoting trades and links between start-ups and Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).