BIMSTEC natural platform for countries in the region: Swaraj

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj addressing the 15th BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting in Kathmandu on August 11, 2017.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj addressing the 15th BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting in Kathmandu on August 11, 2017.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today said BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) was a natural platform for the countries of the region, with their shared histories, values and ways of life, to build a common future.
Addressing the 15th BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting here, she said, “We are meeting in a landmark year when BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) is observing its 20th anniversary. It brings together like-minded countries with a common commitment to the prosperity of its people representing one-fifth of world humanity. BIMSTEC is also one of the fastest growing regions in the world.”
It enjoys the unique strengths of connecting South and South-East Asia. It links the ecologies of the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal, she said.
“For India, BIMSTEC is a natural choice to fulfil our key foreign policy priorities of 'Neighbourhood First' and 'Act East,” Ms Swaraj noted.
“We were honoured to host the BIMSTEC Leaders Retreat, during the BRICS-BIMSTEC Outreach Summit in Goa in October 2016. At the Retreat, our leaders pledged to make BIMSTEC stronger, more effective and result oriented. They also agreed on an action agenda to achieve greater connectivity, trade, people-to-people contacts, and sustainable use of resources,” she said.
Ms Swaraj said she was happy to note the progress made in the priority areas of Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime, Transport & Communication, Tourism and Environment & Disaster Management, where India is the lead country.
Peace and security are essential for development to take place. The First Meeting of BIMSTEC National Security Chiefs in New Delhi in March adopted a holistic approach to tackle traditional and non-traditional security challenges, that threaten the region, she said.
“We worked out collective strategies to counter the scourge of terrorism, violent extremism & transnational crimes, as also to strengthen our maritime and cyber security cooperation. Specific follow-up measures in these areas are now under progress,” she said.
“Our region is vulnerable to a variety of disasters due to its geo-climatic conditions. To build regional capacities, India is hosting the first BIMSTEC Disaster Management Exercise in October 2017. This will help us develop quicker, coordinated and comprehensive responses to disasters, and provide timely relief and rehabilitation,” the Minister said.
She said intra-regional tourism got a boost with the launch of the BIMSTEC Network of Tour Operators recently in New Delhi. This first-of-its kind platform has brought industry and stakeholders from across the region together.
Promotion of intra-BIMSTEC tourist circuits, joint marketing strategies, and BIMSTEC specific tourism products, notably the Buddhist circuit, would allow tourists to experience our rich and shared civilizational heritage, she said, adding that India has also further liberalized its tourist e-visa visa norms, which makes it easier for foreign tourists to visit its neighbouring countries when they are on a trip to India.
The Minister said enhanced connectivity is vital to achieving their common goals of growth, employment & prosperity. "To achieve smoother cross-border flows of trade and people, we need to put in place the enabling soft infrastructure such as the Framework Agreement on Transit, Trans-shipment and movement of Vehicular Traffic; & the Agreement on Coastal Shipping, at the earliest,"she said.
"Energy is considered the engine of economic development. Our region is blessed with abundant energy resources. I am happy to note, that cross-border exchange of power between India, Nepal, Bhutan & Bangladesh is on a rapid upswing. The BIMSTEC MOU on Grid Interconnection, which has been finalized, would further facilitate regional energy trade. In India, a massive programme to harness renewable energy is transforming our energy landscape. Let us build a strong renewable energy partnership to tackle climate change together, for a greener world tomorrow," he said.
Ms. Swaraj said BIMSTEC has a combined GDP of over $ 2.85 trillion but 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 in Customs Matters would fasten trade and must be concluded at the earliest.
“In the area of public health, I am happy to inform of a unique initiative - the BIMSTEC Telemedicine Network that was launched recently by one of our premier medical institutes JIPMER. The Network brings together ten top hospitals and medical institutes in the region to provide cutting edge telemedicine services. The BIMSTEC Task Force on Traditional Medicine would be meeting in India in October 2017 to strengthen the role of traditional medicine in holistic health care,” she added.


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