PM Hasina calls for rebuilding a resilient Bay of Bengal region for mutual benefits

The huge population of the region is ‘not only a challenge but also an opportunity’, says the premier

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday called for collective efforts of the seven Bay of Bengal countries at tapping the full potential of the region for the benefit of their people.

“We need to find common strategies to rebuild a sustainable and resilient Bay of Bengal region by tapping the full potentials of the region,” she said while addressing the fifth Bimstec Summit that opened in Sri Lankan capital, Colombo.

Joining the summit virtually from her official residence Ganbhaban, the prime minister said that the summit meeting gives an opportunity to expedite the collective efforts and find out common solutions to multiple challenges.

Bimstec of Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation comprises Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand bringing together 1.54 billion people of the resource-rich region.

Sri Lanka is hosting the fifth Bimstec Summit in hybrid mode with the theme “Bimstec-Towards a Resilient Region, Prosperous Economies and Healthy Peoples.” Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa formally inaugurated it.

The Bangladesh leader said that the huge population of the region is “not only a challenge but also an opportunity.”

Sheikh Hasina also said the forum isappropriate to leverage for mutual benefits to address the post Covid-19 challenges, as well as the impacts of the political crisis in the West.

She said that the summit is taking place at a time when the world is going through turmoil due to Russia-Ukraine war and its aftermath.

The war has pushed the world towards a “fresh debacle impacting fuel and food supplies and soaring prices of essentials” just when it started recovering from the devastating pandemic, she added.

The prime minister also noted that the livelihoods of people, especially of countries like Bimstec, have started becoming tougher with the price hike of essentials.

She said that Bangladesh has been committed to regional cooperation since its Independence.

In this connection, she said that the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman first dreamt of regional cooperation through working with neighbours in South Asia.

She mentioned that Bangladesh’s joining of the Bimstec forum as a founding member in 1997 was an extension of the legacy of Bangabandhu’s dream.

The prime minister urged the Bimstec leaders to pledge for:

  • Immediate implementation and operationalization of all agreed decisions like Bimstec FTA, Bimstec Centres, and entities like Disaster Management Center, Energy Center, Cultural Commission etc. Connectivity Projects, Energy Grid Connectivity with a view to bringing immediate tangible benefits for our people.

  • Completion of all other legal instruments and policy documents that are already underway but not yet finalized by pushing the organization’s momentum on a fast track.

  • Empowering the organization to engage in creative and innovative processes by expanding its partnership and outreach with relevant entities outside of Bimstec with a view to addressing emerging threats and seizing new opportunities.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took the opportunity to explain how Bangladesh underwent a phenomenal transformation in the socio-economic front during the last decade while upholding democratic polity.

She mentioned that the rate of poverty came down from 41.5% to 20.5% and extreme poverty from 25.1% to 10.5% during this period.

She also said that per capita income more than tripled to USD $2,591. 

The infant mortality rate fell to 23.67 per 1,000; maternal mortality rate to 173 per 100 thousand live births and life expectancy rose to 73 years.

The prime minister said that Bangladesh is now one of the top five fastest-growing economies in the world.

“Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, we maintained a 6.3%  growth last year. Just last week, we brought 100% population under electricity coverage. The UNGA has granted us the final approval of graduation from the status of LDCs.”

Sheikh Hasina said that Bangladesh is the lead country for Trade and Investment within Bimstec and urged the leaders to extend support to implement the Bimstec Framework Agreement on Free Trade Area (FTA) signed in 2004 for the operation of tariff-free trade among the member states.

She later mentioned that the conclusion of some essential constituent legal instruments of the FTA is required. While, some signs of progress have been made in finalizing the Agreement on Trade in Goods and Rules of Origin, by the relevant sectoral working group led by Bangladesh. “I seek support from the distinguished leaders to expedite the process”, she added.

She also said that Multimodal Transport Connectivity is another vital component of Bimstec Cooperation and the government is committed to linking Bangladesh with the countries in the Bay of Bengal region.

She welcomed the adoption of the Bimstec Transport Connectivity Master Plan formulated by the Member States with the technical assistance of the Asian Development Bank.

“I strongly believe the Master Plan will facilitate regional integration in the Bay of Bengal Region.”

“Cooperation in the Energy sector is a very vital component for our development and survival. We have to take new and collective initiatives for innovation and renewable energy.”

She reiterated Bangladesh’s commitment to maintaining security and stability in the region within the framework of the Bimstec Cooperation and Security Mechanism.

“We are working and taking part in all activities and events under the Bimstec Convention on Counter-Terrorism and Convectional Crimes (CTTC),” she said.

Furthermore, she urged the leaders to reiterate the collective commitments at the summit to revitalize the organization, in order to make the process fully functional by activating all 14 sectors of the cooperation.

Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen joined the summit in-person, while Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen joined virtually.

Secretary (East) Mashfee Binte Shams, Additional Foreign Secretary (SAARC and Bimstec) Md Shamsul Haque, Rector at Foreign Service Academy Asad Alam Siam, High Commissioner of Bangladesh to Sri Lanka Tareq Md Ariful Islam, Director (SAARC and Bimstec) Md Aminul Islam Khan, Director (FMO) Md Emdadul Islam Chowdhury and others joined the meeting as Bangladesh delegation members.