'Modi's initiative to hold BIMSTEC meeting in Goa infused fresh life into bloc'

New Delhi, July 24 (IANS) It was Prime Minister Narendra Modi's initiative of holding the Leaders Retreat of the BIMSTEC grouping in Goa in 2016 that gave a fillip and new importance to the bloc of seven nations, and it has been taking large strides ever since, experts and officials said here on Wednesday.

At a talk here on 'Future Orientation of BIMSTEC', and attended by M. Shahidul Islam, Secretary General, BIMSTEC, and the envoys of some of the nations, the challenges facing the grouping comprising Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka from South Asia, and Myanmar and Thailand from Southeast Asia were discussed.

The talk was held under Chatham House rules that does not allow the source of information to be divulged.

"Hosting of the BIMSTEC-BRICS Outreach summit in Goa in 2016 infused fresh life into the BIMSTEC process. It had a very strong impact on cooperation among the bloc," said a speaker.

The BIMSTEC -- or Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, which has its Secretariat in Dhaka, Bangladesh, focuses on trade, transport, technology, counter terrorism, people-to-people contact, tourism, climate change, and agriculture among other areas.

But the bloc is hobbled by lack of funds as well as the failure to sign a Free Trade Agreement that could help trade within the bloc rise to $240 billion.

Formed in 1997, the grouping is home to 1.5 billion people that constitute around 22 per cent of the global population, with a combined GDP of $2.7 trillion, and have strong historical and cultural ties. The growth rate of member states has been around 6.5 per cent.

India has been stressing on BIMSTEC and smaller groupings within South Asia after the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) ground to a halt following cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan. India also views BIMSTEC as a pivot to its Act East Policy.

Once the Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) and a Coastal Shipping Agreement between BIMSTEC members is inked it will go a long way in enhancing trade.

Meetings are becoming more regular, with the foreign secretaries having met 19 times, and the foreign ministers having met 16 times, while four summit meetings have been held so far.

In a sign of its growing regional relevance, BIMSTEC is being approached for project-based cooperation by the Asian Development Bank, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

With it becoming difficult to work in all the 14 areas of cooperation, the bloc is now working on regrouping the subjects in an attempt to reduce the number and give it more focus.

One of the suggestions was that the bloc should adopt the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation type of impact projects which are easy to implement and have more impact on the ground.

Another suggestion was to bring in the advances of India's space initiative into the grouping to benefit the members.

One suggestion was to do away with the mandatory quorum of the ministerial meetings so that decisions could be taken. A ministerial-level meeting on tourism had to be cancelled four times because one or the other member could not attend.

--IANS

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