The seven-nation regional bloc Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral (BIMSTEC) will finalise agreements on goods trade and customs cooperation, as part of the proposed FTA, by 2019.
“India recently provided new inputs on product specific rules (PSR), paving the way to resumption of negotiations on the trade in goods, which were stalled in 2015. Also, considerable progress has been made to finalise the text of the customs cooperation agreement. I am optimistic that we will be able to sign both the agreements within 2019,” M Shahidul Islam, Secretary- General of BIMSTEC, said in Mumbai.
Islam was addressing a seminar on ‘Unlocking BIMSTEC potential: Trade, investment and connectivity’, organised by the World Trade Centre, Mumbai. BIMSTEC includes Nepal, Bhutan, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Myanmar and Thailand are members of ASEAN and the rest are part of SAARC.
BIMSTEC is also negotiating agreements on dispute settlement mechanism, trade in services, investment and trade facilitation. While the negotiation for dispute settlement mechanism has reached an advanced stage, discussions on the others are in early stages. Though BIMSTEC was formed in 1997, it was dormant till 2016 when the leaders started promoting it. The initiative got a fresh boost at the Kathmandu summit in August with Prime Minister Modi making a strong pitch for the block.
India is a major engine behind the resurrection of BIMSTEC, especially on connectivity issues including physical, digital and people-to-people, and is investing heavily in the area.
An MoU was recently signed to link Kathmandu with Raxaul by rail. Close to nine cross border rail projects, a number of road and inland river water connectivity projects are on with Bangladesh and construction of Trilateral Highway and Kaladan road project have been initiated in Myanmar.
The BIMSTEC leaders reiterated their resolve to ensure seamless multi-modal transport and simplified transit facilities and directed the authorities to speed up efforts to conclude the coastal shipping and motor vehicles agreements “as early as possible”, Islam said adding the second round of discussions on both the agreements will begin soon.
This correspondent, who was a panellist at the meeting, pointed out that entering into a motor-vehicles agreement may not be an easy task as Thai truckers have been resisting seamless movement for long. Resistance from Bhutan on environmental grounds has already stalled implementation of similar agreement between the BBIN (Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal) sub-group.