BIMSTEC to become a free trade area
The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) meeting in Nay Pyi Taw of Myanmar today agreed to establish a permanent secretariat of BIMSTEC, Centre for Weather and Climate and BIMSTEC Cultural Industries Commission and BIMSTEC Cultural Industries Observatory.
The representatives of BIMSTEC countries signed Memorandum of Association on the establishment of the BIMSTEC Permanent Secretariat at Dhaka in Bangladesh. The secretariat will coordinate and facilitate the implementation of the BIMSTEC activities and projects and to service meetings of BIMSTEC, and is expected to function from May 2014 with Sri Lanka as the first secretary general of BIMSTEC Sumith Nakandala.
Likewise, they signed a Memorandum of Association Among BIMSTEC Member Countries Concerning Establishment of a BIMSTEC Centre for Weather and Climate in India that will promote cooperation in identified areas of fundamental and applied scientific research in weather prediction and climate modeling and capacity building in weather and climate research.
"Ministry of Earth Sciences is establishing the centre in premises of National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting in India," it said, adding that they also signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of the BIMSTEC Cultural Industries Commission and BIMSTEC Cultural Industries Observatory in Bhutan. It will serve as a repository for information on cultural industries, disseminate such information and facilitate its access by the member states. "The Cultural Industries Commission is a high level oversight mechanism for the observatory, which will develop plans and programmes in this area."
The foreign ministers of the member countries signed the agreement on behalf of their respective countries.
Minister for External Affairs of India Salman Khurshid, State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh Md Shahriar Alam, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bhutan Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Myanmar U Wunna Maung Lwin, , Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal Mahendra Bahadur Pandey, Secretary at the Ministry of External Affairs Kshenuka Senewiratne and Permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand Sihasak Phuangketkeow are the signatories of the agreement.
Likewise, the third summit concluded with several key decisions including that to finalise the draft Agreement on Trade in Goods according to earlier agreement of General Rules of Origin and Product Specific Rules.
They also reached agreements on Dispute Settlement Procedures and on Cooperation and Mutual Assistance in Customs Matters under the Framework Agreement on the BIMSTEC free trade area.
The BIMSTEC Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC) would expedite the process to close the deal on Trade in Goods by the end of 2014, and to continue efforts for finalising the agreement on Services and Investments, said the declaration adopted by the member states.
The summit also agreed to enhance cooperation in expanding skills and technology base of the member states through collaborations and partnerships, targeting micro, small and medium level enterprises. The summit has also decided to accelerate efforts for early finalisation of the Memorandum of Understanding on the establishment of BIMSTEC Technology Transfer Facility.
Lauding BIMSTEC’s third Energy Ministerial Meet-2014 held in Kathmandu, the member states also stressed the need for enhancing regional cooperation in the energy sector while declaring Bhutan as the next stop for the fourth BIMSTEC Energy Ministerial Meet in 2015.
The statement also hailed the progress made on connectivity in BIMSTEC region and updating of the BTILS under the Asian Development Bank support, transport infrastructure and logistics, and efforts to identify concrete projects for implementation are remarkable.
The meeting also welcomed the progress made in implementing tourism cooperation programmes aimed at realising the enormous tourism potential of the region, particularly through facilitating engagements among the private sector in the member states. The meeting also reiterated the commitment to continue and enhance cooperation in the field of agriculture and decided to intensify efforts through joint research programmes to increase productivity.
The summit also reiterated the commitment to expand efforts to further people-to-people exchanges and linkages at various levels among the member states, including facilitating travels through the BIMSTEC Business Visa Scheme and Visa Exemption Scheme. It has also agreed to implement the BIMSTEC Poverty Plan of Action adopted at the second ministerial meeting on Poverty Alleviation held in January 2012 in Nepal.
Sri Lankan offer to host the third edition in the first half of 2014. The seven-member regional body also agreed to explore collaborative initiatives amongst the member states towards addressing the adverse impacts of climate change.
Addressing the summit Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh said BIMSTEC is a fairly young regional institution that gets lost in the space between SAARC and ASEAN, but the latest summit added some much-needed energy to its development. India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal are the members of BIMSTEC.
Singh called for fast-tracking the free trade act among the BIMSETC members and increasing economic cooperation. The summit issued a joint declaration on trade, which expressed an intention to “expedite work for conclusion of the Agreement on Trade in Goods by the end of 2014, and to continue its efforts for early finalisation of the Agreement on Services and Investments.”