BIMSTEC forum can be alternative to LDC club for the region: Foreign minister

BIMSTEC forum can be alternative to LDC club for the region: Foreign minister.

Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali has said that BIMSTEC forum can be an alternative to the LDC club for the region as Bangladesh and some other countries are graduating out of the LDCs.

He, however, stressed on making the grouping of seven countries “a result-oriented organisation” to yield untapped potentials.

BIMSTEC forum can be alternative to LDC club for the region: Foreign minister.

The foreign minister was inaugurating a day-long conference on Tuesday marking the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) at its headquarters in Dhaka.

Scholars, think-tanks, government officials, diplomats, business leaders and other stakeholders of the member states – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand — convened for the conference to take stock of its achievements and chart a future course of action.

Mahmood Ali said Bangladesh had been consistently engaged with BIMSTEC member states in enhancing levels of cooperation in all 14 areas of cooperation.

BIMSTEC forum can be alternative to LDC club for the region: Foreign minister.

Those include like liberalisation and facilitation of trade, enhancing investment cooperation, strengthening cooperation in Energy sectors, technology cooperation, increasing transport connectivity in rail-road, air and sea and enhance people-to-people contact, combating terrorism and extremism to achieve collective security, dealing with the adverse effect of climate change, and disaster management, among others.

He said now Bangladesh, along with three other BIMSTEC members – Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar – are in the process of graduation from the LDC group, which he called a matter of immense pride.

“However, we will also face some immediate trade and economic challenges to sustain the momentum of the development and progress we have made,” he said, adding that: “We have to find out alternatives to LDC Club.”

“The BIMSTEC forum could be one such alternate.”

“We can supplement the economic benefits and gains we used to receive as LDC club members through rapid enhancement of economic cooperation under the BIMSTEC process,” he said.

“It is now imperative on the member states that we conclude all pending formalities to harness quick dividends from our cooperation in the BIMSTEC forum.”

He said BIMSTEC forum bears “great meaning and significance” for Bangladesh as a tool for economic development through regional integration.

Bangladesh had been involved since the very inception of BIMSTEC in 1997 through Bangkok Declaration.

The foreign minister said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina attaches “high priority to transform the BIMSTEC process more dynamic, effective and to strengthening the institutional mechanism for bringing out more results.”

“Hosting the BIMSTEC Secretariat since 2014 in Dhaka is a testimony of our commitment to the BIMSTEC process,” he said.

Much remains to be done

BIMSTEC connects South Asia with the Southeast Asia, and serves as a platform for inter-regional cooperation between SAARC and ASEAN members. It accounts for 21 percent of the world population, providing huge potential for trade.

In spite of the solid foundation of geographical contiguity and shared history and cultural ties, BIMSTEC has yet to make visible progress in advancing concrete cooperation among the member states.

Two recent developments, however, have generated renewed hope that BIMSTEC is poised to take off as a viable regional grouping.

First, BIMSTEC established its permanent Secretariat in Dhaka in 2014.

Second, BIMSTEC cooperation received new impetus from the Leaders’ Retreat held in Goa, India on Oct 16 in 2016, wherein the BIMSTEC Leaders pledged to work collectively towards making BIMSTEC stronger, more effective, and result oriented.

It is now being seen as an alternative to SAARC by some think-tanks following India-Pakistan tension that resulted in postponement of the 2016 SAARC summit in Islamabad.

BIMSTEC Secretary General M Shahidul Islam says that as the BIMSTEC process enters the third decade of its existence, it is high time to take stock of BIMSTEC’s achievements and chart the future course or direction of the organisation.

The conference titled “BIMSTEC at its 20: Towards a Bay of Bengal Community” will contribute towards improved understanding and awareness about the potential of the BIMSTEC initiative, as well as the challenges facing it currently, the Secretariat says.

The foreign minister said BIMSTEC forum has crossed 20 years and during this journey, there have been some “significant achievements” in economic advancement, social and technological progress.

“But much remains to be done to make it a result oriented organisation,” he said.

“The organisation is yet to take off despite having huge potentials for gains to bolster economic and social progress for the peoples of the region.”

Much of this potential remains underutilised, he said.

“Intra-regional trade volume is only 7 percent while it can go up to 21 percent if efforts are accelerated and roadblocks are removed.”

“Enhanced level of trade and investment cooperation, connectivity and energy cooperation would certainly generate employment opportunity and facilitate economic and social development for the region.”

Nepalese Ambassador in Dhaka Prof Chop Lal Bhusal, speaking at the inauguration, said connectivity and energy deficiency are the two major challenges of the region.

He thanked Dhaka for providing necessary logistic support to the new secretariat and said its time for BIMSTEC to focus on “result-oriented” activities.

There will be four working sessions where panellists will discuss the role of connectivity in BIMSTEC integration, role of people-to-people contact, security cooperation and economic integration in the Bay of Bengal region.