Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday arrived in Nepal to attend the first day of the 4th Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit and was received by Nepal defence minister Ishwar Pokhrel.
BIMSTEC is an international organisation of seven nations of South Asia and South East Asia including Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan, and Nepal. The two-day BIMSTEC summit is being hosted in Kathmandu on 30 and 31 August.
On Wednesday, Modi said that his participation in the BIMSTEC summit in Kathmandu signals India's highest priority to its neighbourhood and a strong commitment to continue deepening ties with the "extended neighbourhood" in South East Asia. Modi said that he will interact with all the leaders of BIMSTEC "to further enrich our regional cooperation, enhance our trade ties and advance our collective efforts to build a peaceful and prosperous Bay of Bengal region".
"I also look forward to meeting Prime Minister of Nepal KP Sharma Oli and reviewing the progress we have made in our bilateral ties since my last visit to Nepal in May 2018," he said. Modi also announced that he will inaugurate the Nepal Bharat Maitri Dharmashala at the Pashupatinath temple complex during the course of his visit.
Ahead of the regional summit, Nepal prepared Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) over the construction of railway and bulk cargo with India, Nepal's Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali had said.
What is BIMSTEC?
BIMSTEC is an economic grouping of member-countries in the South East Asia region. This action taken for regional economic cooperation was carried out in 1997 through the Bangkok declaration. BIMSTEC was created with the aim of increasing socio-economic cooperation in the areas of technology, transport and communications, energy, tourism, agriculture, fisheries and human resources development. In addition to this, BIMSTEC also worked to strengthen cooperation in areas of trade and investment.
According to Businessworld, "Compared to South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), BIMSTEC Free Trade Area seems to be much more promising. A deeper economic integration process within the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is suffering because of political tensions between India and Pakistan. Such things are less likely to happen in the case of BIMSTEC."
Overall, BIMSTEC functions based on three pillars of cooperation: Trade and investment; energy; and transportation. The transformation of the BIMSTEC region into a hotspot of economic growth also adds to the body's relevance for the member countries.
One of the objectives of the 4th BIMSTEC meet is to come to a conclusion on the FTA discussion. Ahead of the BIMSTEC Summit, on 20 August, envoys of the seven-nation regional bloc called for the early conclusion of negotiations for an FTA among member-nations, which has been in discussion for 13 years.
Speaking at a panel discussion on the "Fourth BIMSTEC Summit: Expectations, Challenges and Opportunities", organised by industry body Ficci, the envoys of Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand were of the view that the time is ripe to give unequivocal directives to facilitate the conclusion of the FTA.
India's contribution to BIMSTEC
India is the lead country for cooperation in four priority areas: counter-terrorism and transnational crime, transport and communication, tourism and environment, and disaster management. India is the largest economy within the BIMSTEC region.
According to a paper in Observer Research Foundation, in recent times, BIMSTEC has gained more favour as the preferred platform for regional cooperation in South Asia. After India hosted a mini-summit during the BRICS meeting in Goa in 2016, support for BIMSTEC gained further momentum.
The Indian Ambassador to Nepal, Manjeev Singh Puri on Thursday said that the areas of trade, customs facilitation, grid connectivity, and counter-terrorism will be discussed during the summit this year.
BIMSTEC and SAARC
The growing lack of trust among the member countries of SAARC, especially India and Pakistan, has been a key reason for India looking at alternative platforms for regional cooperation. The Observer Research Foundation paper reported that in recent times, Pakistan’s non-cooperation has stalled some of India's major initiatives under SAARC.
The area of security cooperation has also had major obstacles for SAARC. The lack consensus on threat perceptions has been caused due to member-countries disagreeing on the definition of threats to security.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Aug 30, 2018 19:55 PM