This regional organization comprises seven countries namely Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. Five of the member countries come from South Asia and two countries, namely, Myanmar and Thailand come from Southeast Asia. These countries are lying in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal constituting a contiguous regional unity. This article will explain why BIMSTEC is important for India?
This sub-regional organization came into being on 6 June 1997 through the Bangkok Declaration. Initially, the economic bloc was formed with four Member States with the acronym ‘BIST-EC’ (Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation). Myanmar joined the grouping in 1997. And the grouping became ‘BIMST-EC’ (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation). Nepal and Bhutan were given the membership in 2004 at the summit held in Thailand, and the name of the grouping was rechristened as ‘Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation’ (BIMSTEC).
It is a Sector-driven Organization
- BIMSTEC is a sector-driven cooperative organization.
- In 1997, it started with six sectors—including trade, technology, energy, transport, tourism and fisheries.
- Nine more sectors were included in 2008. These are agriculture, public health, poverty alleviation, counter-terrorism, environment, culture, people to people contact and climate change.
Why BIMSTEC is Important For India
- 25 per cent of global trade passes through the Bay of Bengal.
- This region has huge untapped reserve of natural gas.
- India’s strong relations with the countries of this region will give it an extra leverage over China and other major powers.
- India sees it as an alternative of SAARC for neighborhood engagement. It has five of Saarc members and two Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) constituents.
India and Bhutan are the only two members of BIMSTEC that are not participating in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Members of SAARC countries signed the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) in 2004. It is effective since 2006. But thanks to Pakistan’s obstructionist attitude, trade potential of SAARC region has not been realized, as intraregional trade continues to stand at a meager 5 per cent. India wants BIMSTC region to have a strong intraregional trade.
It Is not Merely About Isolating Pakistan
India’s growing interest in BIMSTEC should be seen as merely isolating Pakistan. It goes beyond this. It is much more. India’s intensified engagement with BIMSTEC should be seen in the context of its Act East Policy. Without a strong outreach to BIMSTEC member states, India’s attempts at achieving its Act East policy goals will lack momentum .
The BIMSTEC Permanent Secretariat is to be established in Dhaka with first SG to be nominated by Sri Lanka. India would be contributing 32% of the cost of Secretariat reflecting its strong commitment to BIMSTEC process.