Bimstec favours seamless connectivity, free trade zone

Kathmandu : The Bimstec regional bloc on Friday reiterated its resolve to provide seamless transport connectivity within its seven member states and renewed its commitment to an early free trade deal. A joint declaration issued at the conclusion of the Fourth Bimstec Summit in Kathmandu stated the member states resolved “to establish seamless multi-modal transportation linkages and smooth, synchronised and simplified transit facilities”.

This would be done “through the development, expansion and modernisation of highways, railways, waterways, sea routes, airways in the region”.

It said the respective authorities would be directed to speed up their efforts to conclude the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation’s Coastal Shipping Agreement and the Bimstec Motor Vehicle Agreement as early as possible. The bloc was also satisfied with the preparation of the draft Bimstec Master Plan on Transport Connectivity and called for its early adoption.

It thanked the Asian Development Bank for providing support to prepare the Master Plan and tasked the Bimstec Transport Connectivity Working Group to work out the modalities for its implementation, giving due attention to the special circumstances and needs of the member states. “We agree the Master Plan would serve as a strategic document that guides actions and promotes synergy among various connectivity frameworks, such as the Asean Master Plan on Connectivity 2025, the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy, to achieve enhanced connectivity and sustainable development in our region,” it stated.

The statement comes in the wake of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stress on connectivity within the region during his address at the inaugural session of the Summit on Thursday.

Bimstec came into existence on June 6, 1997, through the Bangkok Declaration. It comprises seven countries lying in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal — Bangla­desh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The bloc brings together 1.6 billion people, or 22% of the world’s population, and has a combined GDP of $2.8 trillion.

Its main objective is technical and economic cooperation among South Asian and Southeast Asian countries along the rim of the Bay of Bengal. With the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation virtually rendered ineffective as a bloc, India has been giving more importance to Bimstec in recent times. According to Friday’s joint declaration, Bimstec decided to establish a Working Group to deal with information technology and communications related matters with a view to providing greater access, more affordable and high-speed internet and mobile communications to the peoples of the region.

In terms of trade cooperation, the bloc renewed its commitment to an early conclusion of Bimstec Free Trade Area negotiations, and directed the Bimstec Trade and Economic Ministerial Meet and subsidiary bodies, including the Trade Negotiating Committee to expedite finalisation of all related agreements of Bimstec FTA as early as possible.

The states also agreed to revitalise activities of the Bimstec Business Forum and Bimstec Economic Forum to further strengthen government-private sector cooperation for the promotion of trade and investment and task the Expert Group on Bimstec Visa Matters to continue negotiation for finalisation of the modalities for the Bimstec visa facilitation.

It also stated that Bimstec reiterated its position that terrorism continues to pose a serious threat to peace and stability in the region and reaffirmed its strong commitment to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and agreed to taking appropriate steps.

Stating the bloc looked forward to the signing of the Bimstec Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, the declaration called upon the member states for its early ratification and expressed satisfaction that many states have ratified the Bimstec Convention on Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism, etc.

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