Introduction: BIMSTEC has proved to be a bridge of friendship connecting the people of South and South-east Asia. Much recently, the 26th Founding Day of BIMSTEC will be celebrated. BIMSTEC is a regional organization comprising seven Member States in South and Southeast Asia.
Established in 1997, it aims to promote regional unity and cooperation. Member States include Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand. The Permanent Secretariat is located in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Significance of BIMSTEC for India
- Strategic Importance: BIMSTEC aligns with India's "Neighbourhood First" and "Act East" policies, strengthening regional cooperation.
- Regional Integration: Connecting South and Southeast Asia and Enhancing Trade and Transport Links
- Trade and Economic Cooperation: BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement (FTA) Facilitates trade liberalization and market access among member states.
- Development of Northeast India: Integration with Southeast Asia and Access to Southeast Asian Markets
- Energy Security and Resource Cooperation - Harnessing Energy Resources: Explores and utilizes the rich energy resources in the Bay of Bengal region.
- Security Cooperation: Countering Terrorism and Transnational Crime: Enhances intelligence sharing, border security, and joint counter-terrorism efforts.
- Challenges in BIMSTEC - Geopolitical Challenges: Indo-China Regional Rivalry and there is a Perception of Indian Dominance
- Incomplete Free Trade Agreement (FTA) - Lack of Progress: Despite signing the Framework Agreement for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) 18 years ago, there has been limited progress in achieving a comprehensive FTA within BIMSTEC.
- Connectivity Deficits: BIMSTEC faces challenges in terms of inadequate physical connectivity, including roads, railways, air links, river routes, and coastal shipping connections.
- Delayed Progress on Blue Economy: BIMSTEC has recognized the importance of the Blue Economy, but concrete actions and initiatives in this domain are yet to materialize.
- Limited Engagement of Business Chambers and Corporate Leaders: Incomplete Private Sector Involvement
- Bilateral Issues and Conflicts:
- Rohingya Crisis and Border Conflicts: Ongoing challenges, such as the Rohingya refugee crisis between Myanmar and Bangladesh and border conflicts between Myanmar and Thailand, pose hurdles to the smooth functioning and cooperation within BIMSTEC.
- Unsolved Maritime Disputes: Long-standing maritime disputes, including the issue of Indian fishermen crossing the maritime border into Sri Lanka, remain unresolved, affecting regional cooperation and coordination.
Way forward: Enhance multimodal connectivity, Promote digital integration, Prioritize green and sustainable development, Promote blue economy cooperation, Strengthen disaster resilience and Encourage academic and research collaboration
Conclusion: BIMSTEC holds immense potential for regional cooperation, economic growth, and security in South and Southeast Asia. India's active engagement, leadership, and commitment to addressing challenges will play a crucial role in realizing the benefits of this sub-regional organization.