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BIMSTEC nations, including India, today agreed to take "concrete" steps to boost cooperation in combating terrorism with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj saying the grouping has worked out collective strategies to counter the scourge.
Describing BIMSTEC as a "natural choice" for India to fulfil its key foreign policy priorities of 'Neighbourhood First' and 'Act East', Swaraj said the grouping enjoys the unique strengths of connecting South and Southeast Asia.
Swaraj, while addressing the ministerial meeting of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) here, asserted that peace and security are essential for development to take place.
She highlighted that the first meeting of BIMSTEC National Security Chiefs in New Delhi in March 2017 adopted a holistic approach to tackle traditional and non-traditional security challenges that threaten the region.
"We worked out collective strategies to counter the scourge of terrorism, violent extremism and transnational crimes, as also to strengthen our maritime and cyber security cooperation. Specific follow-up measures in these areas are now under progress," she said.
In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the grouping expressed its "strong commitment" to combat terrorism, "which remains the single most significant threat to peace and stability in our region, in all its forms and manifestations."
The foreign ministers of BIMSTEC countries agreed to take "concrete measures to step up cooperation and coordination among our law enforcement, intelligence and security organisations."
"We also agree to expedite the ratification of the BIMSTEC Convention on Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism, Transnational Organised Crime and Illicit Drug Trafficking, signed in Myanmar on 11 December 2009 and also to complete the internal procedures to sign the BIMSTEC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters at the earliest," the leaders of the delegation said in the statement.
The statement emphasised the need for greater cooperation in trade and investment in order to deepen regional integration in the Bay of Bengal region.
"We recognise the paramount importance of early conclusion of BIMSTEC Free Trade Area and direct the Trade Negotiating Committee and Working Groups to expedite the finalisation of its constituent Agreements," it said.
Swaraj also called for quickening the work on BIMSTEC FTA, the BIMSTEC Trade Facilitation Agreement and the BIMSTEC Agreement on Mutual Assistance on Customs Matters so that they are concluded at the earliest.
The leaders also stressed on the need to expedite the negotiations on the Agreements on Services and Investment to augment economic cooperation in the region.
Swaraj, in her address, asserted that it was the grouping's collective resolve to impart a fresh dynamism to BIMSTEC.
"Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi looks forward to attending the fourth Summit, as we work together to fulfil the aspirations of our people with an outcome-oriented and people-centric approach to regional cooperation," Swaraj said.
Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal are members of the BIMSTEC.
The ministers also noted that the member states have commenced negotiations on BIMSTEC Convention Against Trafficking in Persons and urged early conclusion of the convention.
They also agreed for an early establishment of the BIMSTEC Eminent Persons' Group (EPG) to recommend a future roadmap for BIMSTEC Agenda for 2030.
Expressing concern over the issue of climate change, the leaders recognised the increasing threat to the planet and livelihoods of the people from climate change and agreed to combat the same at local, national and regional levels.
Swaraj, who is on her first foreign visit after a long illness, said she came here because BIMSTEC was a regional grouping to which India attached the highest importance.
Pitching the regional grouping as a "natural platform" to build the common future of member countries, Swaraj said BIMSTEC represents the common desire for peace and development.
Noting that BIMSTEC links the ecologies of the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal, she said the grouping brings together like-minded countries with a common commitment for prosperity of its people representing one-fifth of world humanity.
BIMSTEC, which is observing its 20th anniversary, is also one of the fastest growing regions in the world, she said.
Talking about the BIMSTEC Leaders Retreat, during the BRICS-BIMSTEC Outreach Summit in Goa in October last year, Swaraj said leaders there had pledged to make BIMSTEC stronger, more effective and result oriented.
They had also agreed on an action agenda to achieve greater connectivity, trade, people-to-people contacts, and sustainable use of resources, she said.
"Among the priority areas of Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime; Transport & Communication; Tourism; and Environment and Disaster Management, where India is the lead country, I am happy to note the progress made in these areas," Swaraj said.
Swaraj also asserted that enhanced connectivity was vital for achieving the grouping's common goals of growth, employment and prosperity.
"To achieve smoother cross-border flows of trade and people, we need to put in place the enabling soft infrastructure such as the Framework Agreement on Transit, Trans-shipment and movement of Vehicular Traffic; and the Agreement on Coastal Shipping, at the earliest," Swaraj said.
Noting that the grouping has an important role to play in disaster management, Swaraj said to build regional capacities, India was hosting the first BIMSTEC Disaster Management Exercise in October 2017.
Swaraj also identified the energy sector as a key area of cooperation and noted that cross-border exchange of power between India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh is on a rapid upswing.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)