New Delhi, Aug 24 (IANS) Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the Fourth Summit of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) regional bloc to be held in Kathmandu on August 30 and 31, an official said on Friday.
Briefing the media here, Preeti Saran, Secretary (East) in the External Affairs Ministry, said that the programme will start with a joint call by the Bimstec leaders on host of the Summit, Nepal President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, on August 30 which will be followed by the inaugural plenary.
On August 31, there will be a leaders’ retreat after which the closing ceremony will be held.
A joint declaration to be issued after the Summit is also being worked out, according to Saran.
Bimstec came into existence on June 6, 1997, through the Bangkok Declaration.
It comprises seven countries lying in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
The bloc brings together 1.5 billion people, or 21 per cent of the world’s population, and has a combined GDP of $2.5 trillion.
The main objective of Bimstec is technical and economic cooperation among South Asian and Southeast Asian countries along the rim of the Bay of Bengal.
With the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) virtually rendered ineffective as a bloc, largely due to non-cooperation on the part of Pakistan on issues like connectivity and counter-terrorism, India has been giving more importance to Bimstec in recent times.
India is the lead country for cooperation in four priority areas: counter-terrorism and transnational crime, transport and communication, tourism and environment, and disaster management.
Saran said significant progress has been made in cooperation within the bloc since the Bimstec Outreach Summit held on the sidelines of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) Summit in Goa in 2016 in the areas of security, counter-terrorism, transport and connectivity, tourism, environment and disaster management, and people-to-people contacts.
“Bimstec is growing economically and strategically,” she said.
“The strength of the group is in responding collectively in the face of adversity.”
Saran said that Bimstec is important for India in terms of New Delhi’s Act East Policy and Neighbourhood First Policy, with northeastern India acting as a bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia.
A Bimstec free trade agreement (FTA) is under negotiation as also a customs cooperation agreement and a motor vehicles agreement.
“Connectivity is an important component of our discussions within Bimstec. There are two landlocked countries (Nepal and Bhutan) and for them access to water is very important,” Saran said.
Another area of concern, she said, is human-trafficking especially for Nepal and described it as humanitarian issue.
In the 21 years of Bimstec’s existence, only three summits have been held — in 2004, 2008 and in 2014.
However, Saran said that leaders of the regional bloc are meting more frequently, with the Kathmandu Summit happening just two years after the Goa Outreach Summit.
“Bimstec is yet to establish its own charter,” she said.
“Organisationally, the member countries are also discussing and consolidating its rules and procedures.”
Saran said that the Bimstec Secretariat in Dhaka will assist the Bimstec member countries to draw up its rules and procedures and consolidate the bloc internally.
“I am hopeful that at some stage in the future, it (summit) will become an annual affair,” she stated.