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Expressing concern over delay in the signing of BIMSTEC free trade agreement (FTA), India today impressed upon the 7-nation grouping to work actively for a consensus to conclude the pact. The BIMSTEC members signed a Framework Agreement to establish a free trade area in February 2004 to increase the flow of goods and services in the region. "A lot has been said about how we have not still signed an FTA. Yes that is a concern and we shall work actively to get a consensus to have an FTA signed amongst the BIMSTEC countries," Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said. Sitharaman called for understanding the complementaries among the BIMSTEC nations and strengthening of the regional value chains saying it will boost their economies. The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is an international organisation involving a group of countries in South Asia and South East Asia. These include Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal. Highlighting the connectivity related issues, the Commerce Minister said it was a "shame that to move around in this (BIMSTEC) region which is otherwise very well connected, the Bay of Bengal links us, land routes link us, in spite of that it is so arduous". She also pitched for boosting sea and port connectivity saying address this issue will make movement of goods "far more efficient, cost effective and also timely". "There is also this issue of digital connectivity through Bangladesh. One of the main sea-linked optical fibre network will also have to be strengthened," Sitharaman said addressing a conference organised by CII here. Pointing out that India "strongly encourages" business-to -business contacts among the BIMSTEC nations, she said the country will do its best in ensuring land and sea connectivity in the region. She hailed the efforts of businesses from countries like Brazil and Russia to participate in the BRICS Trade Fair at a time "when the global demand situation is so depressing".
The BRICS group comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
The BIMSTEC region is home to around 1.5 billion people which constitute around 22 per cent of the global population with a combined gross domestic product of USD 2.7 trillion.
Nepal's Minister of Commerce Romi Gauchan Thakali said the country "attaches great importance to BIMSTEC and is very much committed to convert the framework agreement into a tangible document at the earliest possible".
Thakali added that Nepal is "very eager" for the ongoing negotiations to materialise on finalising BIMSTEC FTA.
The framework agreement includes a provision for negotiation of FTA on goods, services, investment and economic cooperation amongst the member countries.
Thakali invited India and other neighbouring countries to increase their investments in Nepal. "Being situated between two giant economies of Asia, Nepal would be an ideal place for investors and entrepreneurs. Government of Nepal is fully committed to offering maximum extent of concessions to the investors willing to invest in Nepal," he said. Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs Preeti Saran the BIMSTEC nations are victims of terrorism. "The scourge of terrorism is our biggest battle as there can be no growth and development without peace and security," she said, adding that BIMSTEC was a very important vehicle for implementing India's Act East policy.