Vol. 5 Num 557 Tue. December 20, 2005  
Front Page

PM for equitable growth in Bimstec region

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia yesterday urged the Bimstec nations to identify impediments to progress and recommend measures for overcoming these to ensure equitable growth in the region focusing on the socio-economic challenges stemming from globalisation.

"To sustain development, our economies must grow together. Our motto should be mutual benefit and our guiding force should be regional solidarity," she said inaugurating the 8th ministerial meeting of the seven-nation Bimstec at Dhaka Sheraton Hotel.

Foreign and trade ministers of Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical Cooperation (Bimstec) grouping, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand are attending the meeting.

They would take decisions on the recommendations made by Bimstec senior officials Sunday on six core areas of cooperation--trade and investment, transport and communications, energy, tourism, technology and agriculture.

Expressing the hope that Bimstec-FTA would be operational from July 1 next year on conclusion of the Kathmandu negotiations on Dec 21-27, Khaleda said, "This will be vital in promoting our growing sectors, particularly those facing the challenges of globalisation."

She, however, said the FTA in goods should be attuned to meet the needs and constraints of the least developed member-states of the group.

The prime minister also called for giving priority to social issues as she said economic development can not be meaningful without social progress. Social issues, therefore, must remain at the top on the agenda.

“Our experience has shown that even at low level of income, it is possible to significantly improve standards of living, raise the overall human-development indices and bring people out of poverty,” she said.

Khaleda also proposed to host a ministerial meeting in Dhaka on poverty alleviation early next year, with the hope that the meeting would be able to devise concrete actions to collectively address the problem in the Bimstec countries.

On the necessity of the public-private partnership, she said the private sector must be the driving force in trade and investment. "The prosperity of our region will depend largely on public-private creativity, their initiative and imaginative collaborations," she said, adding that governments will have the responsibility to create an enabling environment for the private sector to operate effectively.

Calling for easing visa regime within the Bimstec region, the prime minister said, "We must create an atmosphere for our investors and entrepreneurs to explore further areas of joint venture and cooperation."

Khaleda also called for implementing the measures identified by the cross-Bay grouping since its inception in 1997 and consolidating the gains so far achieved.

On the conclusion of the 13th Saarc summit held here last month, she said the Dhaka summit was a turning point for regional cooperation in South Asia. She said Saarc membership has been expanded with the decision to admit Afghanistan and to have China and Japan as observers.

"South Asia is reaching out to Southeast Asia and the Far East," she said, adding that five of the seven Bimstec members are also members of Saarc.

"It is vital that Bimstec forges ahead. I am confident that the outcome of this ministerial meeting will reflect our shared perceptions and firm commitment for closer cooperation," she said.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Morshed Khan in his opening remarks said the ministerial meeting would dwell, among other things, on ADB proposal for financing Bimstec projects as well as formulating the Bimstec charter and secretariat.

An expert group will be working to make recommendations on the proposed charter and the secretariat for approval of the Bimstec foreign ministers.

The inaugural session was attended by Bhutanese Trade and Industry Minister Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba, Indian State Minister for External Affairs E Ahamed, Myanmar Foreign Minister U Nyan Win, Nepalese Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey, Thai Foreign Minister Dr Kantathi Supha-mongkhon and Sri Lankan Additional Secretary Karunatilaka Amunugama.

They later made a joint call on Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and expressed keen interest in forging cordial relationship between Bimstec and Saarc as complementary blocs.

The Indian state minister for foreign affairs proposed organising a joint Saarc-Bimstec Film festival to build up relationship among the member-countries of the two regional forums, which was taken as a good idea.

Khaleda Zia stressed further expansion of cooperation among Bimstec member-nations through enhancing trade and communication linkups.

The foreign ministers on behalf of their heads of state or government, particularly Sri Lankan and Indian sides, invited the prime minister to visit their respective countries.

Delegates of the Bimstec member states pay a curtsey call on Prime Minister Khaleda Zia yesterday at Dhaka Sheraton Hotel, the venue of the 8th Bimstec ministerial meet. PHOTO: PID