By Anil Giri
Kathmandu, Aug 11 : Members of the Bimstec grouping have agreed to sign the Free Trade Area Agreement very soon and to set up a Power Grid Interconnection between member states, Nepal’s Foreign Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara said here after the 15th Bimstec Ministerial Meeting.
Other agreements reached in the meeting were finalising the text of the technology transfer, facilitation of the motor and transit agreements among the member states.
Mahara, who is also Deputy Prime Minister in the Sher Bahadur Deuba government, said that member states also agreed to set up a Bimstec Energy Centre, Environment Centre and Cultural Centre immediately in order to expedite the objective of the regional organisation.
The meeting also agreed to constitute an Eminent Persons’ Group to suggest the future roadmap of the regional grouping.
Agreeing on revitalizing the regional process, the 15th Bimstec Ministerial Meeting at the Foreign Ministers level on Friday adopted various decisions, including for strengthening ties on trade, energy and eradicating poverty.
The Bimstec process is keenly followed in the region after another regional grouping, Saarc failed to move ahead even after 30 years of its establishment due to rivalry between India and Pakistan.
Nepal as current chair of Bimstec was hosting the Ministerial Meeting for the first time. The meeting reviewed the progress of the Outcome of the BIMSTEC Leaders’ Retreat held in Goa, India on October 16 last year and the status of implementation of various activities following the 17th Session of the Senior Officials Meeting held in February.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the Ministers adopted the Joint Statement that essentially seeks to forge stronger ties and cooperation among the Member States to revitalise the Bimstec process.
The meeting also endorsed the appointment of the next Secretary General of Bimstec, Bangladesh’s Shahidul Islam, with the current incumbent Sumith Nakandala, of Sri Lanka, completing his tenure.
Bimstec is a regional organization with seven Member States, established in June 1997 with the main objective to create an enabling environment for rapid economic development, accelerate social progress in the sub-region and promote active collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest. Bhutan became member of Bimstec in 2004.
In her speech at the Ministerial Meeting, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also said that there remained an “immense unfulfilled potential for deeper economic integration”.
“Along with the work on Bimstec FTA, the Bimstec Trade Facilitation Agreement and the Bimstec Agreement on Mutual Assistance on Customs Matters would fasten trade, and must be concluded at the earliest,” she said.
Bimstec, comprising Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand, brings together 1.5 billion people or 21 per cent of the world’s population and has a combined GDP of over $2.85 trillion.
According to the joint statement, the member nations of the regional bloc also stressed on the need to expedite the negotiations on the Agreements on Services and Investment to augment economic cooperation in the region.
“We underscore the importance of trade facilitation in our region and urge authorities for early finalization of the Bimstec Trade Facilitation Agreement,” it said.
In terms of energy cooperation, the participants expressed satisfaction that the memorandum of understanding on the Establishment of the Bimstec Grid Interconnection is ready for signature and agreed to complete the internal procedures to sign it at the earliest.