Lok Sabha TV- Public Forum: BRICS-BIMSTEC Outreach Summit
India invited leaders of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation; a select group of Asian nations for an outreach session with the leaders of BRICS nations in Goa recently. BIMSTEC groups 7 nations of the South and South East Asia i.e. Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Formed in 1997 (Bangkok Declaration), BIMSTEC aims to promote economic cooperation among South and South East Asian countries. BIMSTEC region is home to around 1.5 billion people amounting to 21% of the world population with a combined GDP of $2.5 trillion.
In BRICS, a system has emerged over the years where the host countries invite some of the partner countries as a gesture in terms of their engagement and partnership for growth, technology and development. For example- South Africa invited South African countries and in Ufa, Russia invited the countries from Eurasia. Given the fact that SAARC is not moving ahead in any direction, BIMSTEC has emerged as a grouping which is extremely dynamic and reflects India’s foreign policy priorities and regional cooperation. India is one of the fastest growing economies and until and unless its neighbours also see that prosperity, it would be difficult to grow alone. Hence, this can be said to be a rational move to strengthen India’s Act East Policy.
Average rate of growth of BIMSTEC nations is around 6% of GDP. There is no other cluster in the world which growing at this rate presently. Naturally, India is the leader here as far as size and GDP is concerned along with Bangladesh (rate of growth of textile industry is highest among these nations), Thailand and Myanmar (more investment because of new democratic government). Because of their geographical locations, nobody can ignore them. Sri Lanka has also considerably invested in ports which are helping it in boosting trade through Indian Ocean.
The BRICS and BIMSTEC summits provided an opportunity to India to project itself as a stable, secure, dynamic and rapidly expanding economy and investments are being explored through institutions like New Development Bank. NDB is largely for facilitating the credit flows and investments made by China in trying to develop infrastructure in these countries as a part of its own bilateral and multilateral programmes. India has thought of developing a technology centre in Sri Lanka, there is more focus on renewable energy (solar) for which there would be a BIMSTEC centre in India and a trade and economic policy under pinning cultural dimension for which a cultural-industrial observatory is to be established in Bhutan.
BRICS and BIMSTEC are leveraging each other. NDB is going to have a market in the BIMSTEC nations apart from BRICS nations because BIMSTEC nations also require infrastructure funding. NDB is innovating the products like rupee denominated bonds or local currency denominated bonds apart from clean and green energy investment projects. Many of these nations are also a part of Sunshine Countries which India had made regarding solar and renewable energy. However, the progress on free trade agreement among BIMSTEC nations has not much significant. LDCs (Least Developed Countries) have got duty free and quota free access to Indian markets, there is Early Harvest Scheme with Thailand and 100% access to Indian markets for Bangladesh is given. The main aim of FTA is to address non-tariff barriers which would further lead to custom harmonization and facilitation of trade. This would fall in very well with the idea of blue economy along with SEPA that India is thinking for whole IOR region of which these countries are also a part.
These groups can only move to the next level if they are able to provide support to each other like inter BRICS trade. The Joint Declaration that came out has 11 recommendations which can be classified into four broad categories:
- The institutions proposed to be set up for technology, energy and others,
- Areas for cooperation like agriculture, tourism, traditional medicine. As far as eco-tourism is concerned, Sunderbans have huge potential and it is also linked with India’s sustainable development goals.
- Terrorism, transnational crimes and peace
The commitments are at multiple levels through different groupings. Keeping the agenda focused, lean and thin, the biggest challenge that lies across these nations is to sustain economic growth which will in turn address unemployment as it is a common denominator across all economies. These meetings might help in significantly raising the political image, clout and profile of India in the region and beyond.