Bimstec commits itself to seamless connectivity, free trade area (Lead)
Kathmandu : The Bimstec regional bloc on Friday reiterated its resolve to provide seamless transport connectivity within its seven member states and renewed its commitment to an early free trade deal.
A joint declaration issued at the conclusion of the Fourth Bimstec Summit here stated that the member states resolved "to establish seamless multi-modal transportation linkages and smooth, synchronised and simplified transit facilities".
This would be done "through the development, expansion and modernisation of highways, railways, waterways, sea routes, airways in the region".
It said that the respective authorities would be directed to speed up their efforts to conclude the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation's Coastal Shipping Agreement and the Bimstec Motor Vehicle Agreement as early as possible.
The bloc was also satisfied with the preparation of the draft Bimstec Master Plan on Transport Connectivity and called for its early adoption.
It thanked the Asian Development Bank for providing support to prepare the Master Plan and tasked the Bimstec Transport Connectivity Working Group to work out the modalities for its implementation, giving due attention to the special circumstances and needs of the member states.
"We agree that the Master Plan would serve as a strategic document that guides actions and promotes synergy among various connectivity frameworks, such as the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Master Plan on Connectivity 2025 (MPAC 2025), the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS), to achieve enhanced connectivity and sustainable development in our region," it stated.
The statement comes in the wake of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's stress on connectivity within the region during his address at the inaugural session of the Summit on Thursday.
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 1.6 billion people, or 22 per cent of the world's population, and has a combined GDP of $2.8 trillion.
In terms of trade cooperation, the bloc renewed its commitment to an early conclusion of Bimstec Free Trade Area (FTA) negotiations, and directed the Bimstec Trade and Economic Ministerial Meeting (TEMM) and its subsidiary bodies including the Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC) to expedite finalisation of all related Agreements of the Bimstec FTA as early as possible.
The member states also agreed to enhance cooperation for development, access and sharing of affordable technologies, including for micro, small and medium enterprises for promoting sustainable development across sectors.
The declaration reemphasised the need for cooperation in mountain ecosystems and the Blue Economy.
In terms of people-to-people ties, the bloc resolved to build a deeper understanding and trust among member states and promote people-to-people contacts at various levels.
The member states also agreed "to take concrete steps to promote intra-Bimstec tourism and task the relevant authorities to devise strategies considering the emerging opportunities and building on the past initiatives".