HEADING: BIMSTEC nations must move forward on FTA proposal to increase mutal trade: Modi

STRAP: Leaders from member countries sign charter, masterplan for transport connectivity

New Delhi, March 30

BIMSTEC nations must work towards expediting a free trade agreement (FTA) to increase mutual trade, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said. “We must increase exchanges between enterprises and start-ups in our country. In addition, we must also strive to adopt international norms in the area of trade facilitation,” the PM said virtually addressing the 5th BIMSTEC Summit hosted by Sri Lanka on Wednesday.  Leaders from the seven member countries, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand, signed the BIMSTEC Charter, which formalises the grouping into an organisation made up of member states that are littoral to, and dependent upon, the Bay of Bengal.

The Summit’s theme “Towards a Resilient Region, Prosperous Economies, Healthy People” captures the main current priorities of member states, and the efforts by BIMSTEC to develop cooperation activities that support member state’s programmes to deal with the economic and development consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a release issued by the Ministry of External Affairs.

The BIMSTEC grouping is significant for India as it brings together over 150 crore people comprising 21 per cent of the world population, and a combined GDP of over $2.5 trillion. Focussing on trade facilitation will encourage intra-BIMSTEC trade and economic integration, Modi said. “In this context, our officials, together with Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations and ADB, must start a programme for building awareness. I am hopeful that officials from all member countries will regularly participate in this,” he added. 

BIMSTEC countries have been trying to work on an FTA for a long time but not much progress has been made. The Indian PM said that it was time to move forward on the FTA proposal to increase mutual trade and economic partnership.

Masterplan for transport connectivity

Leaders also signed the BIMSTEC Masterplan for Transport Connectivity for better alignment of member countries’ national transportation and connectivity networks.  Modi, in his speech, stressed on the need for better connectivity and said that it forms the basis of better trade, better integration and better people to people contact. He said that the master plan should be implemented early. Modi also called for expediting work on a legal framework for establishing a ‘coastal shipping ecosystem’ in the Bay of Bengal. He stressed on the need to take forward discussions on electricity grid and road connectivity.

Modi, along with other leaders, also witnessed the signing of three BIMSTEC agreements including BIMSTEC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, BIMSTEC Memorandum of Understanding on Mutual Cooperation in the field of Diplomatic Training and Memorandum of Association on Establishment of BIMSTEC Technology Transfer Facility.