BIMSTEC cooperation not satisfactory, need charter: Nepal

Nepal, the current BIMSTEC chair, said today that the pace of cooperation among member countries was not satisfactory and demanded "clarity" on its vision, as India assured it was committed to make its neighbours part of its growth story.

Addressing a session - Towards a Bay of Bengal Community: Development, Growth and Security - at the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi, Nepal's Foreign Secretary Shanker Das Bairagi said a charter was needed to enhance the profile of the initiative.

The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a regional grouping of seven nations of South Asia and South East Asia, that was established 20 years ago. It has its secretariat in Dhaka.

"There have been barriers in BIMSTEC, the pace of cooperation has not been satisfactory, the scope and scale of operation have not matched the potential. We need to have clarity on what is the vision we seek for the grouping," Bairagi said.

"The most important thing is to have a kind of a charter to enhance the profile of BIMSTEC, a legal instrument to outline the role of the secretariat. We have the founding document, but we need a charter," he said.

Bairagi said Nepal was planning to host a summit "sometime this year" as the chair of the BIMSTEC grouping.

Secretary (East) in India's Ministry of External Affairs, Preeti Saran, said, she was "all positive" about the journey of the BIMSTEC grouping over the past 20 years.

"The chief guests from 10 countries of the region will attend the Republic Day celebrations. That itself shows the importance we attach to BIMSTEC policies," she said.

Leaders of 10 ASEAN nations are expected to attend the Republic Day celebrations on January 26 in New Delhi.

Saran said the grouping was poised to move ahead as there was a political will and close coordination among its members.

In cross-border matters, it takes two to tango, and the political will is there and the members meet frequently to solve issues. "We are one track", she said.

"Also, as part of our 'Act East' policy, we are committed to make our neighbours in this region, part of the growth story... India has an important role to play, not only in this grouping...but for the growth of the entire region," she said.

India has been giving more importance to BIMSTEC as the SAARC talks have stalled for the past a few years.

Besides India and Nepal, other BIMSTEC members are Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand and Bhutan. The region represents nearly one-fifth of the global population and a combined GDP of close to USD 3 trillion.

Sri Lanka's State Minister of Foreign Affairs Vasantha Senanayake said the BIMSTEC initiative has the strength of pooling complementary strengths of nations from the SAARC and the ASEAN groupings.

"We can achieve through BIMSTEC what we could not through SAARC. I am not saying Sri Lanka would not try harder to move SAARC," he said.

"The region is also rich in biodiversity, and we have to maintain a delicate balance, so that we exploit it without hurting the marine biodiversity," Senanayake said.

Bangladesh's Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali was scheduled to attend the session, but could not make it.