BIMSTEC and India
This article deals with ‘BIMSTEC and India Relations – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘International Relations’ which is an important pillar of the GS-2 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.
- Sri Lanka
(important missing countries: Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore (MIS))
BIMSTEC is a sector-driven cooperative organization.
- Initially started with six sectors— trade, technology, energy, transport, tourism and fisheries.
- In 2008, it expanded to embrace eight more sectors— agriculture, public health, poverty alleviation, counter-terrorism, environment, culture, people-to-person contact, and climate change.
- BIMSTEC consists of 20% of the world’s population.
- BIMSTEC countries have a combined gross domestic product (GDP) close to $2.7 trillion.
|1997||BIST-EC, i.e. Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation, was formed headquartered in Dhaka.|
|2004||– Nepal and Bhutan joined. |
– BIST-EC was renamed to BIMSTEC .
– BIMSTEC = Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation.
|2004||Talks on Free Trade Agreement (FTA) started between BIMSTEC nations.|
|2008||2nd BIMSTEC Summit held in Delhi.|
|2014||3rd BIMSTEC Summit in Nay Pyi Taw (Capital of Myanmar).|
|2016||BRICS-BIMSTEC Outreach Summit held on side-lines of 2016 BRICS Summit in Goa => India started to promote BIMSTEC instead of SAARC.|
|2018||4th BIMSTEC Meet held in Nepal.|
|2019||BIMSTEC leaders were invited to Prime Minister’s swearing-in ceremony (in 2014, SAARC leaders were invited ). Therefore, it can be seen as a change in policy.|
|2020||5th summit was proposed to be held in September 2020 in Sri Lanka, but it was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.|
|2022||BIMSTEC charter was finalized. Charter presents BIMSTEC as “an inter-governmental organization” with “legal personality.”|
Why BIMSTEC is important for India?
Alternate to SAARC
- Due to Pakistan’s hostility, SAARC is not able to achieve anything substantial. In such a situation, BIMSTEC presents a viable alternative to SAARC.
- BIMSTEC can act as a platform to counter assert China in South and Southeast Asia, where it has undertaken investments through the Belt and Road initiative.
- It is in line with India’s policies, namely
- Neighbourhood First Policy
- Act East Policy
- Being a party to the BIMSTEC, India can utilize the FTA agreement once signed.
- BIMSTEC can provide a big market to Indian companies (as 20% of the world population lives in the BIMSTEC area).
- BIMSTEC has great tourism potential. The Bay of Bengal could rival the Caribbean as a high-end tourist destination. Buddhist heritage sites for religious tourism can help in this regard too.
- BIMSTEC FTA & BIMSTEC Motor Vehicles Agreement are on the cards, which, when signed, will bolster trade.
- The Bay of Bengal is also rich in untapped natural resources, with reserves of gas and other seabed minerals, oil, and fishing stocks.
- Better connectivity with BIMSTEC countries opens up opportunities for Indian coastal states and North-East states to unlock the potential for development in the region.
- The trade between BIMSTEC has the potential to benefit North-East as well. Energizing it would also accelerate India’s Act East policy. Various projects already running will help in this
- India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway.
- India-Myanmar Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project.
- India, the largest member of the grouping, has been criticized for not providing strong leadership to BIMSTEC.
- Both Thailand and Myanmar are criticized for ignoring BIMSTEC in favour of ASEAN.
- It took more than 15 years to set up Secretariat for BIMSTEC, which was set up in 2014 in Dhaka.
- Countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are not included, which are an essential part of the Bay of Bengal littoral.
- Issues of refugee and ethnic tension among BIMSTEC member countries would challenge the grouping. For example. The Rohingya Refugee crisis has impacted the relations between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
- So far, BIMSTEC has held only 4 summit meetings.
BIMSTEC, though valuable, is no substitute as this leaves out our troublesome western periphery.
Revival of BIMSTEC (& death of SAARC)
Why the change in policy?
- The stagnation of SAARC is crucial for India to reach out to BIMSTEC as the stagnation limited the scope of India’s growing economic aspirations.
Why does SAARC remain relevant?
- SAARC, as an organization, reflects the South Asian identity of the countries. BIMSTEC, despite its achievements, is not tied with such an identity.
- South Asian countries are closely tied in their socio-political state as they face similar threats and challenges like terrorism, similar economic challenges, disasters etc.
- Although BIMSTEC offers a lot of potential, it has remained as ineffective as SAARC. The relatively rich /powerful countries are India and Thailand. If they take the lead, others will follow. But in recent times, Thailand has been caught up in internal coups & India too has remained passive.