Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will leave for Myanmar Monday to take part in the third BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) summit that will focus on increasing connectivity and establishing an architecture of subregional economic cooperation.
The prime minister will also hold bilateral meetings with the prime ministers of Bangladesh and Thailand and the president of Sri Lanka.
Briefing correspondents about the March 4 Summit, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh said the summit would provide “momentum” to the connectivity and growing inter-regional and subregional cooperation.
The seven-country forum of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand provides a unique link between South Asia and Southeast Asia bringing together 1.3 billion people, 21 percent of the world population, a combined gross domestic product of around $2.5 trillion, and a considerable amount of complementarities.
BIMSTEC, she said, is an “expression of the synergy between the Look East Policy of India and the Look West Policy of Thailand,” and the reional cooperation between the SAARC and ASEAN regions.
What makes BIMSTEC different from other organizations is that BIMSTEC represents one of the most diverse regions of the world, be it the way of life, religion, language, or culture. And the forum is focussing on “target-oritened projects”, Singh said.
The grouping is making efforts to promote the 14 priority sectors of development and common concern such as trade and investment, technology, energy, transport and communication, tourism, agriculture, environment and disaster management, public health, counter-terrorism and transnational crimes and climate change and people-to-people contact.
It also aims to achieve its own free trade area by 2017. Asked about the progress in this regard, the foreign secretary said it is a “complex issue” that needs more deliberations.
“FTA negotiations are processes that take time. And BIMSTEC negotiation is particularly complex because it already encompasses countries which have FTA under the SAFTA…We have to arrive at an outcome that is optimal for India…This is going to take some time,” she said.
For India, connectivity and agriculture are priority elements, according to Sanjay Bhattacharyya, joint secretary, ministry of external affairs.
In this regard, the foreign secretary emphasized the potential of BIMSTEC on bringing trade, transport, tourism, especially medical toursim, and other investement linkages to India’s northeast region.
The members could sign a memorandum of understanding on climate change and cultural industries.
The prime minister will be in Myanmar after two years of his visit to the country. Asked whether he would would review the progress made on decisions taken then, the foreign secretary said, “certainly”. She said the promises made to Myanmar were “progressing satisfactorily” and referred to IT parks, growth corridors and cooperation in the energy sector.
It has been decided to establish the Permanent Secretariat of BIMSTEC in Dhaka.