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26 years of BIMSTEC: High on hopes

26 years of BIMSTEC: High on hopes
The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectorial Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) marked its 26th anniversary on Tuesday. The regional organization, which serves as a bridge between South Asian and Southeast Asian countries, was founded on 6 June 1997 with the purpose of fostering regional cooperation.  The fifth summit of the BIMSTEC heads of state and government signed the BIMSTEC Charter only last year, which talks about creating an enabling environment for rapid economic development through identification and implementation of specific cooperation projects in the already agreed areas of cooperation. Out of seven BIMSTEC member-states, five of them are also part of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), namely Nepal, India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Some see BIMSTEC as a replacement to SAARC, which is in a state of moribund since nearly a decade due to the India-Pakistan dispute.

One of the key SAARC member-states, India appears more inclined toward fostering BIMSTEC. For a long time, the regional body did not make any progress but once the SAARC went into hibernation after 2016, BIMSTEC started to make progress.  Nepal is a strong proponent of regionalism as it provides an opportunity to make its voices loud in the international arena.

In his message, BIMSTEC Secretary General Tenzin Lekphell has said the adoption of the charter has provided necessary legal provisions to build more efficient and effective working methods for BIMSTEC to strengthen its institutional framework and form a meaningful partnership within the region. As BIMSTEC marks its 26 anniversary and looks forward to its sixth summit due to be held in Thailand later this year, the regional organization seeks to revisit and re-examine its working methods to better serve the people in the region through Eminent Persons’Group to put forth practical recommendation for the future of BIMSTEC, the Lekphell has said. Nepal’s Minister for Foreign Affairs NP Saud has highlighted the potentials of BIMSTEC in terms of natural resources, cultural heritage, tourism, trade and investment. On this occasion of the organization’s 26th anniversary, BIMSTEC heads of state and governments have expressed their commitment to pushing forward the BIMSTEC process. Pushpa Kamal Dahal,  PM of Nepal:  BIMSTEC has completed the journey of a quarter century since its establishment in 1997. The region is diverse in geography but closeness in cultural and civilizational values brings together the South and Southeast Asian countries for the meeting of the aspirations of about 1.6 billion people. With the adoption of BIMSTEC Charter and reconstitution of BIMSTEC areas of cooperation, the fifth summit of BIMSTEC has given a new momentum to the regional process. Now, our concerted efforts and solidarity for the implementation of all our decisions and commitments are instrumental for making the region prosperous, resilient, and sustainable. As an active member of BIMSTEC, we are delighted to lead the people-to-people contact as one of the important areas of cooperation and look forward to working with all members. The six summits, which will take place this year under the chairmanship of Thailand, will have extensive deliberations on connectivity and other projects. Sheikh Hasina, PM of Bangladesh:  As one of the founding members of BIMSTEC, Bangladesh places great importance to the BIMSTEC process for socioeconomic development of the region through collective endeavors in a spirit of equality and partnership. The ongoing economic crisis due to the Ukraine war has taught us a harsh lesson and the importance of a strong region is more felt than ever before. We need to work together to face these challenges. During the last 25 years of its existence, the organization has made some truly remarkable strides. It is encouraging to see that over this period, BIMSTEC has been able to create a number of crucial administrative and regulatory structures including having its charter which will certainly contribute to move the BIMSTEC process forward. As a founding member and a host of its secretariat, I reiterate our commitment to taking every step possible to further strengthen the BIMSTEC process forward. Lotay Tshering, PM of Bhutan: As we observe BIMSTEC Day, let us reflect on the strengths and potentials of our vibrant region. Together, we have achieved significant milestones in the various sectors including trade, investment, energy, transportation, tourism and cultural exchanges and making important headways in others. Our collective efforts have contributed to the development and prosperity of nations, benefiting our people. Let us look into a future with optimism and focus on further strengthening the BIMSTEC process in fulfilling our common goal of peace and prosperity in the region. Narendra Modi, PM of India: BIMSTEC framework is our commitment to creating an enabling environment for the rapid development of our region through joint endeavors in the spirit of equality and partnership. I am happy to note that we achieved a major milestone with the adoption of the BIMSTEC Charter last year. The Bay of Bengal has been a long-standing bridge between the people of BIMSTEC region. Our current efforts to have a maritime cooperation agreement and an agreement to facilitate the movement of motor vehicles across the region reinforces the importance of Bay for our collective security, connectivity and prosperity. I am confident that BIMSTEC countries will steadily move toward building a well-connected, more prosperous and a secure BIMSTEC region. Min Aung Hlaing, Chairman of State Administration Council, Myanmar:  Myanmar joined BIMSTEC on 22 December, 1997 with shared aspirations of collective efforts for economic development during peace in the Bay of Bengal region. In the 26 years of its journey, BIMSTEC, a rule-based intergovernmental organization has been able to put its best foot forward in enhancing economic growth and prosperity in the region. I also have a firm belief that our commitments under the BIMSTEC mechanism brings stronger solidarity and friendship among the member states. Today, ramifications of Covid-19 and disruptions of global economic stability were unprecedented to the people around the world. I am confident that through our joint efforts, we can address those issues. Ranil Wickremesinghe, President of Sri Lanka:  BIMSTEC is indeed an important and meaningful organization, bringing the people and economics of South Asia and South East Asian region which are abundantly endowed with significant potential for economic development and enhancing the people-to-people contact. Bound by shared history and traditional cultural linkages, BIMSTEC has secured to be a prosperous regional grouping.  It is indeed gratifying to note that cooperation under the BIMSTEC banner has expanded in recent years. Sri Lanka remains committed to the founding principles embodied in the BIMSTEC charter and stands ready to work with other countries. Prayut Chan-o-Cha, PM of Thailand :  BIMSTEC has come a long way since the signing of the Bangkok declaration in 1997. The organization’s Silver Jubilee last year reflected that BIMSTEC has grown to become a cornerstone of regional cooperation in South and SouthEast Asia, creating an enabling environment for regional development and promoting economic growth. Through our collective efforts, we have made significant progress in a number of areas, notably in promoting regional integration, increasing trade and investment, improving transport and connectivity, enhancing security cooperation, and promoting people-to-people exchanges. Since assuming the chairmanship last year, Thailand has been committed and determined to work closely with all member-states to strengthen this regional organization.