Vol. 5 Num 558 Wed. December 21, 2005  

Bimstec potential unfolding
Dhaka ministerial makes it felt
THE Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, acronymed Bimstec, may be a new comer to the sub-regional grouping lexicon, but it is already jelling. The outcome of the Dhaka ministerial has been indicative of the signs of coagulation in Bimstec. This is quite noteworthy, because membership of the forum spanning India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan on the one hand, and Myanmar and Thailand, on the other, girdles two flanks of Asia -- South Asia and South East Asia.

Evidently, the bonding factors are commonality of interests and potential complementarities between the economies of member countries.

Of the decisions made at the Dhaka ministerial, the most important one relates to introduction of free trade in the region from July 1, 2006. In the first phase, it will be trading in goods, then would come services and investment, in that order under the FTA to be signed at the trade and economic ministers' meeting in Dhaka early next year. Basically, trade will lead to incremental investment, sharing of the benefits of economies of scale and external competitiveness.

The second area of cooperation has to do with combating terrorism and transnational crimes. The sub-groups working to prepare reports on intelligence sharing and stopping terror financing have their jobs cut out. How speedily they deliver is of the essence; for we are in a race with time as far as overpowering the terrorist technology and countering their ideological propaganda goes.

Illicit trafficking of humans, drugs and explosive substances in an area which has the infamy of being a vicious triangle need to be checkmated on top priority basis as well.

Significantly, in addition to the six areas of cooperation originally identified, seven new areas have been added to the list. The new agenda include: poverty alleviation, agriculture, cultural cooperation, disaster management, public health and people to people contact.

The member countries have a huge potential to grow collectively. What they need to do in the Bimstec area is to unlock all possibilities of better transportation and communication by setting up the key, connective infrastructures within the region and beyond. Secondly, the grouping has economies of varying strengths and weeknesses requiring that these are shared so that the principle of equity reigns supreme.