India calls for ‘paradigm-shift’ in BIMSTEC cooperation

New Delhi, Apr 1 (FN Bureau) India on Thursday stressed the need for a “paradigm-shift” in the level of cooperation and regional integration among BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) countries and and pitched for increased connectivity and intra-regional tourism. “Next year will be the silver jubilee of the establishment of the BIMSTEC. It is high time that we dwell upon how to make a paradigm-shift in raising the level of our cooperation and regional integration,” said External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.

Addressing the grouping’s virtual ministerial meeting, the minister said India remained committed to further building the momentum of regional cooperation under the BIMSTEC framework and make the organization “stronger, vibrant, more effective and result-oriented.” “I am confident that BIMSTEC would scale new heights in the times to come with our collective efforts and spirit of cooperation.” He said the collaboration in intra-regional tourism has been badly hit by the ongoing coronavirus disease pandemic adding that as the overall situation becomes normal, strong emphasis should be laid on developing the BIMSTEC’s brand of tourism and focus on developing modalities for using the initiative’s tourism fund. “Our collaboration in intra-regional tourism has been badly hit naturally by the COVID pandemic. As the situation normalizes, we should lay strong emphasis on promoting the BIMSTEC Brand of Tourism and develop modalities for utilization of BIMSTEC Tourism Fund,” Jaishankar said.

“Subject to normalization of the situation, we plan to invite BIMSTEC countries as Guest of Honour Partners at the ‘International Buddhist Conclave’ later this year,” he added. The Dhaka headquartered BIMSTEC comprises seven countries, five of these — India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Bangladesh– are from South Asia while the Thailand and Myanmar are from Southeast Asia. The grouping has gained salience in the Narendra Modi government’s foreign policy. Jaishankar said robust connectivity is an essential pre-requisite for economic integration of the region with smooth cross-border movement of people and goods, and voiced India’s happiness over the finalisation of the BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity which is expected to be adopted at the fifth BIMSTEC Summit by the member-nations, which would be an important step towards better connectivity and integration.

“We also need to put in place legal framework for smooth connectivity in the region by finalizing the BIMSTEC Coastal Shipping Agreement and the Motor Vehicles Agreement at an early date. Saying that the countries faced both traditional and non-traditional security challenges, he said the the BIMSTEC Convention on Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism, Transnational Organized Crime and illicit Drug Trafficking has come into force last month and BIMSTEC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters has been finalized for signing at the fifth BIMSTEC Summit will provide a robust legal basis to further strengthen cooperation in the sector. He also highlighted disaster management as another important area of collaboration among the BIMSTEC countries having similar geo-climatic conditions.