BD News 24 |
2015 can be a ‘game-changer’ for BIMSTEC
Senior Correspondent, bdnews24.com
This year could be a “game-changer” for the BIMSTEC, foreign minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali has said .
This is because a number of decisions taken in the past to make BIMSTEC a reality are likely to be implemented in 2015.
The grouping began in 1997 with the name BIST-EC –Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand Economic Cooperation –focussed on economic cooperation.
Later Myanmar joined and the group’s name was changed to BIMSTEC.
In 2003 Nepal and Bhutan joined, but the nomenclature of the group remained unchanged.
The member states identified 14 areas of cooperation and agreed for a free trade zone (FTA) connecting South East Asia and South Asia in 2004 but failed to implement the plans.
The intra-regional trade among the member countries that comprise both LDCs and non-LDCs is still hovering about 5 percent.
The member countries seem to prefer bilateral engagements rather than collective efforts to boost trade and connectivity.
The foreign minister at a seminar on Tuesday said early realisation of the BIMSTEC-FTA to promote trade and investment was of “critical importance”.
Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) organised the seminar titled “Bangladesh and BIMSTEC: way forward”.
This is the first seminar after the BIMSTEC secretariat was set up in Dhaka last year.
The new BIMSTEC Secretary General Sumith Nakandala, foreign secretary Md Shahidul Haque, foreign ministry officials, former ambassadors, teachers and experts on different areas including trade, energy, connectivity, and agriculture joined the seminar.
The foreign minister said Bangladesh always played a “constructive role” in enhancing regional cooperation within the “relevant” processes of BIMSTEC, SAARC and BCIM-EC.
But it took special interest in BIMSTEC because as an organisation it acts as a “bridge” between the two fastest growing regions –South Asia and Southeast Asia.
He said Bangladesh being situated at the “connecting point” between the two regions wished to leverage the geo-strategical advantage.
“BIMSTEC, as a link, between the two regions, can help us in achieving that goal,” he said.
Before saying 2015 a “game-changer” year, the foreign minister said he hoped that the much-expected FTA would be finalised ithis year.
He announced that Dhaka would host the sixth commerce ministers’ level meeting in the middle of this year where four instruments related to the FTA implementation were expected to be signed.
“We would also like to see negotiations on ‘investment and services’ fast-tracked to run parallel to the negotiations on trade in goods,” the minister said.
He said to sustain the growth of the member states, “stable and affordable” energy supply would be needed.
He said Bangladesh would also host a ‘Task Force Meeting’ on energy in Dhaka next month.
Through the meeting, he said, Dhaka was expecting to finalise the MoU on BIMSTEC energy and grid interconnection.
“We believe this MoU will help to foster cooperation in the energy sector”.
He said connectivity would facilitate trade, investment, tourism and people-to-people contacts among the member states.
“Bangladesh as a founding member is deeply committed to BIMSTEC,” he said.
He, however, said the newly established secretariat had to work “hard” to collate the “important” decisions taken in the past and effectively follow-up their implementation .
He hoped that with the secretariat “we shall be able to undertake an in-depth review of our activities and programmes to materialise the true potentials of our grouping for a realistic road map”.
Former governor of Bangladesh Bank Mohammed Farashuddin termed the BIMSTEC region “a quality” zone due to its strategic positioning, growth and economic prospects.
Secretary General Sumith Nakandala stressed on ‘leadership’ to take the BIMSTEC forward as it happened in the case of ASEAN and EU.
He said Indonesian President Suharto led the ASEAN while Germany took the leadership role in the EU.
He also pointed out that regional cooperation involves “costs”, meaning sacrifice for collective gains within a grouping.
Nakandala, however, said he had already met the leaders of the BIMSTEC countries and they promised to co-operate him.