BIMSTEC : Kathmandu Declaration

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The 4th BIMSTEC Summit concluded in Kathmandu with signing and adoption of Kathmandu Declaration by all the seven members (India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand).

 

Kathmandu Declaration

  • 18-point Kathmandu Declaration aims to enhance effectiveness of BIMSTEC Secretariat by engaging it in various technical and economic activities in the region.
  • It acknowledges importance of trade and investment as one of major contributing factors for fostering economic and social development in the region.
  • It also deplored terrorist attacks in all parts of the world, including in BIMSTEC countries, and strongly condemned terrorism in all its forms.
  • It also reiterated strong commitment of BIMSTEC countries to combat terrorism and called upon all countries to devise comprehensive approach in this regard.
  • Member countries also agreed to expedite conclusion of BIMSTEC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters and called upon member states for its early ratification.
  • It also expressed satisfaction that many member states have ratified BIMSTEC Convention on Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism, Transnational Organized Crime and Illicit Drug Trafficking.
  • BIMSTEC countries also agreed to establish seamless multi-modal transportation linkages and smooth, synchronised and simplified transit facilities through the development, expansion and modernisation of highways, railways, waterways, sea routes and airways in the region.
  • They also decided to speed up efforts to conclude BIMSTEC Coastal Shipping Agreement and BIMSTEC Motor Vehicle Agreement as early as possible taking into account special circumstances and needs of the member states.
  • BIMSTEC countries also decided for early conclusion of BIMSTEC Free Trade Area (FTA) negotiations, and directed the BIMSTEC Trade and Economic Ministerial Meeting and its subsidiary bodies, including Trade Negotiating Committee, to expedite finalisation of all related agreements of FTA as early as possible.
  • BIMSTEC countries also called for exploring possibility of establishing BIMSTEC Development Fund with voluntary contributions from member states. The fund will be utilised for research and planning of BIMSTEC and financing of projects, and other activities of regional organisation.

 ias4sure.com - BIMSTEC Kathmandu Declaration

Analysis of Summit:

  1. Work begins now on drafting a charter for BIMSTEC.
  2. A Permanent Working Committee will be set up to provide direction during the period between two summits and also to prepare the Rules of Procedure.
  3. The Secretariat has been promised additional financial and human resources and enhancement of its role to coordinate, monitor and facilitate the grouping’s activities.
  4. As the institution has been handicapped due to lack of financial muscle, the leaders took the bold decision to establish the BIMSTEC Development Fund.
  5. A push to increase its visibility and stature in the international fora will also be made.
  6. Recognising that 16 areas of cooperation represent too wide a spectrum, the BIMSTEC governments will make a serious endeavour to review, restructure and rationalise various sectors, identifying a few core areas.
  7. In this exercise, Thailand has proposed a new strategy of five pillars (viz. connectivity, trade and investment, people-to-people contacts, security, and science and technology). This will be considered, although the difficulty in dropping specific sectors dear to individual member-states should not be minimised.

 

Concerns with respect to BIMSTEC

  • Fourteen years after signing the framework agreement on Free Trade Area (FTA), the leaders could only renew their “commitment to an early conclusion” of FTA negotiations.
  • The Thai Prime Minister bravely urged participants to accept making BIMSTEC a Free Trade Zone by 2021 as “our common goal”, but this did not find a place in the summit declaration.
  • The Myanmar President pointed out that the grouping had established its Energy Centre in 2009, but it was still struggling for the “early operationalisation” of the Centre.

 

Conclusion

  • The summit articulated a vision for the Bay of Bengal Region heading towards a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable future. The region is now widely viewed as a common space for security, connectivity and development.

 

BIMSTEC as an alternative to SAARC

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Stagnation of SAARC:

Two major factors have driven India’s interests in the BIMSTEC forum.

  1. A key reason for India to reach out to its BIMSTEC neighbours has been the stagnation of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
  2. The main motivation for India to push BIMSTEC is in the country’s interest to ensure that the region does not lag behind and that an unstable neighbourhood does not drag its growth. India’s desire to link South Asia to the economically dynamic Southeast Asia is also part of this strategy.

 

Stagnation of SAARC limited both the scope of India’s growing economic aspirations as well as the role it could play in improving regional governance. However, India did not stop its efforts in revitalising the SAARC grouping when opportunities emerged.

  • At the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, in 2014, India proposed the SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement. However, this could not progress due to resistance from Pakistan. This compelled Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN) to sign the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement in 2015.
  • Pakistan also opted out of the ambitious SAARC Satellite project proposed by India, leading to a change in its name to the South Asia Satellite.

 

There is a tendency in some quarters to see India’s interests in BIMSTEC as part of its strategy to isolate Pakistan and position BIMSTEC as an alternative to SAARC. The above instances suggest otherwise.

 

A few challenges:

  • India is currently being the largest contributor to the BIMSTEC secretariat’s budget contributed 32% of the total secretariat budget for 2017-18.
  • With the Secretariat planning to strengthen its capacity by increasing human resources and the number of officials representing each member state, India may need to consider allocating more resources. India’s generosity would be a key test of its commitment to the sub regional grouping.
  • Another issue would be for India to counter the impression that BIMSTEC is an India-dominated bloc, a problem that it faced for a long time in SAARC.
  • A strategic challenge for India is that China has long desired to be part of the SAARC grouping. Some SAARC members also want it to balance India’s dominance. China currently has observer status in SAARC.

 

Way forward:

  • Many of the elements that made SAARC hostage to political rivalry can re-emerge in BIMSTEC.
  • Today, most of the smaller neighbours (SAARC) are more willing to engage so as to benefit from India’s economic rise. Nonetheless, to moderate suspicions that BIMSTEC is an India-dominated bloc, India will need to show sensitivity to the concerns of smaller neighbours.
  • India will have to carefully navigate the emerging regional geopolitics, as many of the elements that made SAARC hostage to political rivalry and turned it into a defunct mechanism can re-emerge in BIMSTEC.

BIMSTEC

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  • BIMSTEC stands for Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation.
  • It is an international organisation involving a group of countries in South Asia and South East Asia.
  • 7 members :
    • Bangladesh
    • India
    • Myanmar
    • Sri Lanka
    • Thailand
    • Bhutan
    • Nepal
  • Established in 1997 in Bangkok
  • Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand were founding members
  • HQ : Dhaka, Bangladesh
  • The main objective of BIMSTEC is technological and economic cooperation among south Asian and south east Asian countries along the coast of the bay of Bengal . Commerce, investment, technology, tourism, human resource development, agriculture, fisheries, transport and communication, textiles, leather etc. have been included in it
  • BIMSTEC uses the alphabetical order for the Chairmanship
  • Bhutan has never been chairman (Skipped itself)
  • Current chairmanship : Sri Lanka
  • Map (Taken from Wikipedia. Not up to scale. For educational purpose only):
 ias4sure.com - BIMSTEC
 
 
 
Latest Summit:
  • Third Summit was held in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar in March 2014.
  • Fourth Summit was held in Kathmandu, Nepal in 2018