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Asserting that peace and security were essential for development, India said today that BIMSTEC has worked out collective strategies to counter the scourge of terrorism, violent extremism and transnational crimes.
Describing BIMSTEC as a "natural choice" for India to fulfil its key foreign policy priorities of 'Neighbourhood First' and 'Act East', External Affairs Minister Sushma 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.
She 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.
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.
"This will help us develop quicker, coordinated and comprehensive responses to disasters, and provide timely relief and rehabilitation," she said.
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.
"The BIMSTEC MOU on Grid Interconnection, which has been finalised, would further facilitate regional energy trade. In India, a massive programme to harness renewable energy is transforming our energy landscape. Let us build a strong renewable energy partnership to tackle climate change together, for a greener world tomorrow," she said.
She 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.