At a time when the summit meeting of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation is uncertain, the seventeenth session of the BIMSTEC senior officials has concluded after taking several decisions, including hosting the summit at the end of the year.
Chaired by foreign secretary Shanker Das Bairagi, this was the first ever meeting that Nepal convened after assuming the chairmanship of BIMSTEC in 2014. Nepal agreed to host the summit this year.
“Nepal, in consultation with the BIMSTEC members states, offered to host the fifteenth BIMSTEC foreign ministers level meeting in June 2017 and Fourth BIMSTEC Summit in Nepal towards the end of 2017,” said foreign secretary Bairagi.
Secretaries and senior officials from the member states discussed the agenda BIMSTEC agenda in connectivity, trade, tourism, investment, energy and technology transfers.
According to foreign secretary Bairagi, the meeting also tasked the Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG) to work out the BIMSTEC vision in line with the UN Agenda 2030. The meeting also decided to conclude the BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement at the earliest.
“All the member states expressed their firm commitment to the effective implementation of the Outcome Document of the BIMSTEC Leaders’ Retreat held in Goa, India, on October 2016 and its 16-point agenda of Action,” said the foreign secretary.
Established 20 years ago, BIMSTEC is a slow-moving regional bilateral institution of South Asian and South East Asian countries. For countries like Nepal and Bhutan, India is the largest trading partner, with as much as eighty percent of bilateral trade.
The meeting, among others, agreed to constitute separate expert level working groups for BIMSTEC Working Group to conclude trade facilitation agreement, agreement on mutual assistance on customs matters, sub-group to cooperation on countering radicalization and terrorism, coastal shipment agreement, disaster management and blue economy.
The meeting, among others, agreed to mark the 20th anniversary of BIMSTEC, organizing the various activities in the BIMSTEC secretariat as well as respective member states.
“We offered to host an expert group meeting on the implementation of the poverty action plan adopted at the second BIMSTEC ministerial meeting on poverty alleviation held in Kathmandu in 2012,” said foreign secretary Bairagi.
At a time when the members states are facing one or the other kind of energy crisis, the officials expressed their readiness to sign the memorandum of understanding for the establishment of BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection at the Third Energy Ministers’ Meeting, which is expected to be held in Kathmandu from 30-31 March 2017.
“The meeting discussed all important issues to improve the regional trade and cooperation in various sectors,” said foreign secretary Bairagi, addressing the press conference.
With the rise of unilateralism in the global political order, how BIMSTEC will prove its own utility and viability in the region remains to be seen.