BIMSTEC Priority Sectors of Cooperation
Six priority sectors of cooperation were identified at the 2nd Ministerial Meeting in Dhaka on 19 November 1998. They include the followings:
- Trade and Investment (led by Bangladesh) divided into 2 categories as follows:
- Goods and services with 8 sub-sectors:
- Gems and jewellery (Sri Lanka)
- Automotive industry and parts (Thailand)
- Processed food (Sri Lanka)
- Horticultural / floricultural products (Thailand)
- Drugs / pharmaceuticals (India)
- Rubber, tea, coffee (Thailand)
- Textile and clothing (Bangladesh)
- Coconut and spices (India)
- Trade and Investment Facilitation with 7 sub-sectors:
- Customs Procedures (Bangladesh)
- Standards and Conformity (Thailand)
- Banking arrangement (Sri Lanka)
- e-BIMSTEC (India)
- Intellectual property rights (India)
- Mobility of business people (Sri Lanka)
- Promotion of intra-BIMSTEC Investment (India)
However, concerns were raised by the private sectors at the Economic Forum that trade within BIMSTEC region still remain low when compared to the value of trade the group has with the rest of the world. This could partly be attributed to the dividing of sectors and sub-sectors of cooperation which may no longer fit the current global circumstances. The 5th Trade/Economic Ministerial Meeting in Phuket (7 February 2004) has thus endorsed the establishment of a Task Force comprising of representatives from both the public and the private sectors of the member countries. The Task Force was mandated to study and recommend a more appropriate structure of the Trade and Investment Sector as well as its 15 sub-sectors. The Task Force had 4 meetings during 2004-2005 and finally prepared a report suggesting the new structure of the original Trade and Investment Sector to be considered by the STEOM.
The Task Force agreed to restructure the Trade and Investment Sector into 3 sectors, namely Trade in Goods, Trade in Services, and Investment Sectors. Within the Trade in Goods Sector, the Task Force further suggested 3 sub-sectors: Agricultural Products (Lead Country – Sri Lanka), Industrial Products (India – Lead Country), and Trade Facilitation (Lead Country – Thailand). It was agreed that each member country initially selected one area of economic cooperation to act as a coordinating country. Thailand offered to be the coordinating country for Trade-related Capacity Building. Click here to view the full report of the Task Force.
Within this sector, Thailand has proposed the establishment of the BIMSTEC Free Trade Area (FTA), of which the negotiation is now underway.
Technology (led by Sri Lanka)
The 1st and 2nd BIMSTEC Expert Group Meetings on Technology Sector were held in December 2000 at New Delhi and in October 2002 at New Delhi, respectively. The “BIMST-EC Agreed Statement on Cooperation in Technology Sector” was reached at the 1st Meeting while the 2nd Meeting discussed the agro-based technology and ICT as appeared in the “Colombo Joint Declaration” adopted at the Meeting.
More recently, India proposed at the 1st Summit to have cooperation on “Sharing of Remote Sensing Data on Agriculture, Environment, and Disaster Management” as well as to setup the BIMSTEC Centre on Weather and Climate in New Delhi, which had later been in operation since August 2004. Prior to the Summit, the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF) of the Department of Science and Technology of India also organised the “BIMST-EC Workshop on Monitoring, Prediction and Warning of Tropical Cyclones and Monsoon” on 25-28 March 2003 in New Delhi. India now proposed to organise another activity, the “BIMSTEC Workshop on Weather and Climate”, during 21-23 July 2005 in New Delhi.
Transport and Communication (led by India)
The 1st Meeting of the BIMST-EC Expert Group on Transport and Communication Sector was held at New Delhi on 23-24 April 2001. The Meeting discussed various concerned issues, including Transport and Cross-border Facilitation, Multimodal Transport and Logistics, Infrastructure Development, Aviation, Maritime Transport, HRD, as well as Communication Linkages and Networking.
India also hosted the 1st Meeting of Chief Executives of Railways of BIMSTEC Countries on 20-21 September 2004 in New Delhi. It was agreed that such meeting should be held annually. India also organised a 2-week Training of Multimodal Transport Course for railway personnel from the BIMSTEC member countries during 21 March – 3 April 2005.
BIMSTEC members recognised the importance to create air, sea, and land linkages. They include the open sky policy in BIMSTEC, development of the Tri-lateral Highway Project between Thai-Myanmar-India and Thai-Myanmar-Bangladesh, which will facilitate land transport from the Bay of Bengal to the South China Sea. In terms of sea transport, there are the coastal shipping project and India’s proposal to support a feasibility study on Tavoy’s deep seaport.
Energy (led by Myanmar)
Current important projects in the energy sector are the development of regional hydrocarbon and hydropower, energy infrastructure (natural gas), energy information centre and energy trading network between members. Myanmar already hosted 5 Expert Group Meetings for the Energy Sector. India organised a Training Programme on Renewable Energy Policy Options during 6-18 December 2004 for officials from BIMSTEC countries. India also offered at the 1st Summit to host a Ministerial Meeting on Energy, which has later been scheduled to take place in late 2005.
Tourism (led by India)
India has become the Lead Country of the Tourism Sector instead of Sri Lanka since 2002. The BIMSTEC Tourism Expert Group Meetings were held 7 times before the 1st BIMSTEC Tourism Ministers’ Roundtable and Workshop took place in Kolkata, India, on 21-23 February 2005, as a result of the proposal made by India’s Prime Minister at the 1st BIMSTEC Summit in Bangkok. The Meeting adopted the Kolkata Declaration on Tourism Cooperation with the Proposed Plan of Action as its annexure. The Proposed Plan of Action includes the suggestion to establish the BIMSTEC Tourism Information Centre in India as well as to explore the possibility of setting up a BIMSTEC Tourism Fund with financial contributions from each member country.
Prior to the 1st Tourism Ministerial Meeting, the Tourism Expert Group Meetings have also produced an action plan for the “Visit BIMST-EC Year 2004”, which was later extended to 2005. The Tourism Authority of Thailand is responsible for the promotional website for the “Visit BIMSTEC Years 2004-2005”. Focus is directed towards a joint marketing plan and information exchange to support intra-regional tourism as well as attract foreign tourists, including Buddhist tourism, ecotourism and sustainable regional tourism. Other projects are excursions in the member countries for tourism entrepreneurs and media, a yacht cruising along Thailand-Myanmar-India and training on tourism IT. Such cooperation should attract foreign currencies and enhance regional employment.
Agriculture and Fisheries (led by Thailand)
Originally the Fisheries Sector, the scope was extended to include agricultural aspect during the Leaders’ Retreat at the 1st BIMSTEC Summit. The Prime Minister of Thailand offered to lead the newly enlarged sector as well as offered to extend credit lines to BIMSTEC member countries for importing agricultural products from Thailand.
The 1st Fisheries Expert Group Meeting was held in Thailand on 5-7 February 2001. The Meeting has adopted the Terms of Reference of the BIMST-EC Sectoral Committee on Fisheries. Later on, the Department of Fishery of Thailand has proposed the “Ecosystem-based Fishery Management in the Bay of Bengal” as a priority project of this sector, while Bangladesh has proposed 2 relevant projects, namely the “Study on Impact of Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling on the Marine Fisheries Resource in Bay of Bengal” and “Marine Fisheries Stock Assessment, Management and Development of New Fisheries in Bay of Bengal”. Thailand proposed to host another Expert Group Meeting in which the 3 project could be discussed simultaneously.
Post-Summit New Areas of Cooperation
A number of new areas of cooperation emerged from the 1st BIMSTEC Summit in Bangkok on 31 July 2004.
- Poverty Alleviation: Poverty reduction was the topic to which Leaders devoted the most time during the Retreat. Each shared his or her practical experience in their respective country. They underscored the importance of empowerment, including through education and self-employment, rural development, access to credit, the role of women, and making poor people bankable. They recognised the need to improve health care and the involvement of the private sector. They agreed that these experiences should be taken up at the Ministerial Meeting on Poverty Eradication, which Bangladesh offered to host.
- Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime: On terrorism, Leaders noted during the Retreat the importance of setting up a network to coordinate the efforts of BIMSTEC countries and the usefulness of talking on the telephone more often among Leaders. The Meeting welcomed India’s proposal to host a BIMSTEC Working Group meeting on Terrorism, which would involve senior officials with decision-making power. The Working Group would coordinate work in such areas as intelligence and capacity building.
In response to the Leaders’ initiative, India hosted the 1st Meeting of the BIMSTEC Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime (JWG-CTTC) on 9-10 December 2004 in New Delhi. The Meeting decided that the BIMSTEC JWG-CTTC would serve as a platform for cooperation among member countries to enhance their operational and strategic capabilities in preventing and suppressing terrorism and transnational crime. Sub-groups would be set up on Intelligence Sharing, Law and Legal Enforcement Issues, and Psychotropic Substances and Precursor Chemicals. The 2nd Meeting of the JWG-CTTC would be held in India before the next Ministerial Meeting.
The Sub-groups on Intelligence Sharing and Financing of Terrorism are scheduled to have their 1st Meetings on 18-19 April 2005 in Colombo and 28-29 April 2005 in Bangkok, respectively.
- Protection of Biodiversity and Traditional Knowledge: During the Retreat, Leaders emphasised the importance of protecting biodiversity and traditional knowledge, in particular traditional medicine. They agreed to set up a network of national centers of excellence to discuss ways to promote traditional medicine and generic drugs, so that the poor would have access to affordable treatment. The Meeting welcomed Thailand’s offer to serve as lead country on this area of cooperation.
- Cultural Cooperation and People-to-People Contact: At the 1st Summit, Bhutan has offered to host a Ministerial Meeting on Cultural Cooperation among BIMSTEC. Thailand initiated 4 projects aiming to promote people-to-people contact within the grouping as emphasised in the Declaration as follows:
- Exploring BIMSTEC Cultural Ties in Thailand aimed to enhance BIMSTEC cooperation in many sectors. BIMSTEC ambassadors to Thailand or their representatives, officials and media members from member countries were invited to a 3-day trip to Sukhothai, Phitsanulok, and Ayudhya provinces during 11-13 February 2005.
- BIMSTEC Young Ambassadors Program aimed to increase awareness of BIMSTEC among the general public. Two Thai undergraduate students were selected to participate in BIMSTEC activities throughout the year 2005.
- BIMSTEC Exhibition to be organised on 8 June 2005 would include exhibition booths, seminars, and cultural shows from member countries. Participation of the BIMSTEC Embassies, the private sector and general public is encouraged.
- Getting to Know the New Members would be a one-week familiarisation trip to Nepal and Bhutan. A delegation of officials, experts on history, art and culture in Thailand and BIMSTEC Young Ambassadors, will travel to the 2 new BIMSTEC member countries to establish connections and exchange experiences.
Other Relevant Cooperation/Projects
Besides the identified areas of cooperation, BIMSTEC activities also cover other areas as follows:
1. Technical Cooperation and Human Resource Development
BIMSTEC countries rank this sector as one prioritised area of cooperation, aiming at developing human resources in the region in order to build the Knowledge Based Economy. On 1-3 December 2003, the International Institute for Trade and Development (ITD) in Bangkok supported a seminar on trade and development to the member countries focusing on the Rules of Origin. Furthermore, in the 6th BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting, Thailand offered 100 training scholarships to BIMSTEC personnel while India also offered 150 of such. Thailand expects the cooperation in this area to help the country become the center of HRD in this region.
2. BIMSTEC Business Travel Facilitation
Member countries agreed to promote the long-term multiple entry visa to facilitate business travel within BIMSTEC. Meanwhile, Thailand’s initiative of issuing the BIMSTEC Business Travel Card (BBTC) or VISA Sticker was accepted and the BIMSTEC Working Group in Bangkok (BWG) has tasked the BIMSTEC Center to prepare a comparative study of the visa exemption schemes for BIMSTEC. The BWG also agreed that an Expert Group Meeting should be convened at the earliest to discuss the issue.
3. Establishment of BIMSTEC Center
The 6th BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting agreed to establish BIMSTEC Technical Support Facility (BTSF) for a trial period of 2 years as coordinating mechanism of BIMSTEC’s general cooperation as well as activities of BIMSTEC Working Group (BWG) and BIMSTEC Chamber of Commerce. Thailand has supported the establishment of the BIMSTEC Center, seeing it as a pilot project that shall be evaluated model for possible foundation of a permanent secretariat. BIMSTEC Center, located at the Institute for Trade Strategies, the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, is already in operation. The Foreign Minister chaired the Center’s Opening Ceremony on 22 July 2004. BIMSTEC Ambassadors to Thailand or their representatives also attended the event.
4. Cooperation with the Private Sector
BIMSTEC emphasises cooperation between the public sector and the private sector, including private participation in various projects. The BIMSTEC Chamber of Commerce and Industry was founded on 30 November 2003 in order to coordinate between the private sectors in BIMSTEC member countries and organise the Business Convention on 1 December 2003 in Colombo. The Chamber should also organise various events such as exhibitions, BIMSTEC Food Festival, as well as maintain a website providing information on trade and investment of BIMSTEC countries.
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