BIMSTEC FTA should be ready by next year

New Delhi, Jun 7 (FN Bureau) BIMSTEC countries should conclude a Free Trade Agreement before the organisation’s 25th anniversary next year, says Secretary General Tenzin Lekpheli. “To enhance intra-regional trade and strengthen the economy and vibrancy of this region, I trust the Member States will be able to conclude the long cherished BIMSTEC Free Trade Area negotiations at the soonest.

“I would earnestly request Member States to step forward towards the goal of trade liberalization by concluding FTA before the 25th Anniversary of BIMSTEC next year,” Lekpheli said on the 24th anniversary of the 7-nation grouping on Sunday. The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation has Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand as members. Starting with six sectors—including trade, technology, energy, transport, tourism and fisheries—for cooperation on June 6, 1997, BIMSTEC expanded to embrace nine more sectors—including agriculture, public health, poverty alleviation, counter-terrorism, environment, culture, people-to-people contact and climate change—in 2008. It is headquartered in Dhaka.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a message said BIMSTEC has emerged as a promising regional grouping and made progress on several fronts including finalisation of a master plan for connectivity. “I am happy to note that regional cooperation under BIMSTEC framework has intensified substantially in the recent years. Progress has been made on several fronts including the finalization of the BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity and the text of the BIMSTEC Charter,” Mr Modi said. Referring to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Lekpheli said, “today, more than ever, inclusive and coordinated regional efforts are required to address a situation that exceeds the individual capacities of the member states”.

Modi and leaders of all other member nations pledged to cooperate with each other in the fight against the pandemic and overcome its consequences. “It is an unprecedented challenge and a testing time for all of us. We need to continue to work together in the fight against the pandemic and in collectively overcoming its consequences,” Mr Modi said. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar also underlined the “enormous potential” of Bay of Bengal cooperation and said that it would contribute to India’s Act East and Indo-Pacific policies. “Realising that helps bridge South & South East Asia. Will also contribute to our Act East and Indo-Pacific policies,” he said in a tweet.