What this year’s Bimstec summit means for member states
The two-day Bimstec Summit recently concluded in Kathmandu. It tried to create platforms for providing cooperation to one another not only for the provision of training and research facilities in educational, vocational, and technical fields, but also for promoting active collaboration and mutual assistance in economic, social, technical, and scientific fields of common interest.
The summit meeting was preceded by two additional meetings of the member countries: One at the level of their foreign secretaries, and the other at the level of their foreign ministers.
Bimstec leaders agreed to transform the Bay of Bengal region in a peaceful and prosperous way by strengthening common bonds. They also agreed that there was need to make the organization a dynamic, effective, and result-oriented body for intensifying regional cooperation.
The summit ended with the signing of an MoU on establishing a Bimstec grid interconnection to enhance energy cooperation among the seven member states.
This was consistent with earlier efforts by member states to create cross-country energy grid inter-connectivity. This time the foreign ministers signed a relevant deal. This is expected to pave the way for buying and selling electricity among Bimstec members once the cross-country energy grids are put in place. At the closing session, Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli presented an 18-point draft of the Kathmandu Declaration, which was adopted unanimously.
The Bimstec member states also reiterated their strong commitment to combat terrorism and called upon all countries to devise a comprehensive approach in this regard -- including the prevention of financing of terrorists and terrorist actions from territories under their control, blocking recruitment and cross-border movement of terrorists, countering radicalization, tackling misuse of internet for purposes of terrorism, and dismantling terrorist safe havens.
This positive and constructive approach was to a great extent due to the efforts of the Bangladesh delegation and our prime minister who repeated their belief in “zero tolerance” with regard to terrorism.
In this context the summit agreed to expedite the conclusion of Bimstec Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters and called upon the member states for its early ratification. It also expressed satisfaction that many member states have ratified the Bimstec Convention on Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism, Transnational Organized Crime, and Illicit Drug Trafficking.
There was also consensus in the summit with regard to the establishment of seamless multi-modal transportation linkages and smooth, synchronized, and simplified transit facilities through the development, expansion, and modernization of highways, railways, waterways, sea routes, and airways in the region.
It was also decided to speed up the efforts to conclude the Bimstec Coastal Shipping Agreement and the Bimstec Motor Vehicle Agreement as early as possible taking into account the special circumstances and needs of the member states.
The leaders, as expected, also stressed on the need to have an early conclusion of Bimstec Free Trade Area (FTA) negotiations, and in this context directed the Bimstec Trade and Economic Ministerial Meeting and its subsidiary bodies, including the Trade Negotiating Committee, to expedite the finalization of all related agreements of the Bimstec FTA as early as possible.
The summit also called for exploring the possibility of establishing a Bimstec Development Fund with voluntary contributions from the member states. This fund would be utilized for research, planning, and financing of Bimstec projects, and other activities of the regional organization as spelt out in the Kathmandu Declaration.
One, however, needs to note here that the summit would have been perceived as a total success if the member states would have avoided the Ostrich syndrome and also touched on the Rohingya crisis inflicted upon Bangladesh and the need to resolve this as soon as possible. One understands that informally, Myanmar President Win Myint has assured our Prime Minister in Kathmandu that the repatriation process is being given due attention -- but that obviously is not enough. They have to be more pro-active.
Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]