Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) came first in the picture in 1997. It is a group of countries situated around the Bay of Bengal.

After the 1962 Indo-China war, China came close to Pakistan for economic and strategic alliance. China being the fastest growing economy, was influential and collaborated with many Asian countries.

During the 1990s, when the “balance in payments crisis” took place in India, Former Indian Prime Minister PV Narsimha Rao brought the Look East Policy. Indian businesses started taking the initiative in trading with the Southeast Asian Countries. Before this, India focused on trading with Western parts of the world like the European and Gulf countries.

Before the Look East Policy, India was already a part of SAARC since 1985, which constituted countries from the South Asian continent. There were 8 members in the SAARC initiative, viz. Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives.

Initiative for BIMSTEC

On 6th June 1997, under the guidance of Prime Minister IK Gujral, India became a part of BIST-EC, a group of Southeast Asian countries under the Bangkok Declaration. Later on 22nd December 1997, Myanmar also joined the league, and the council was renamed BIMST-EC.

In 1998, Nepal was allowed in the council as an observer country. In 2004, Nepal and Bhutan were finally given a place in the council. The group was renamed from Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand Economic cooperation (BIMST-EC) to modern-day BIMSTEC as abbreviated above.

It was a group of seven member countries viz. Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan. The headquarters for BIMSTEC is located in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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Purpose of BIMSTEC

BIMSTEC Countries built an alliance to serve the purposes mentioned below. In the second ministerial meet for the initiative held in 1998 in Dhaka, 6 main points were targeted:

  1. Trade and Investment
  2. Transport and Communication
  3. Energy
  4. Tourism
  5. Technology
  6. Fisheries

Out of these 6 sectors, India took the initiative in influencing Transport and Communication and Tourism. 8 more sectors were chosen in the second ministerial meet after this, in 2005.

  1. Agriculture
  2. Poverty Alleviation
  3. Anti-terrorism and Transnational Crime
  4. Environment and Natural Disaster Management
  5. Culture
  6. People to People Contact
  7. Climate Change
  8. Public Health

Among the new 8 areas of cooperation, India chose Anti-terrorism and Transnational Crime, and Environment and Natural Disaster Management. The importance of BIMSTEC is its sector-driven approach. Every member country is given a set of tasks, and they work collaboratively towards the goal.

Principles of BIMSTEC

The alliance was built to add values to the region and increase trade and work on existing policies. The cooperation was made to enhance sovereign equality, territorial integrity, peaceful coexistence, political independence, no interference in the member countries’ internal affairs, and mutual benefits.

If members of the council are into any bilateral cooperation among themselves, they are not bound to follow the BIMSTEC rules of compliance. BIMSTEC is not a substitute but an addition to the existing bilateral, multilateral or regional alliance.

The main objectives of the cooperation included:

1- Identifying & implementing the sector-specific projects

2- Active collaboration and mutual assistance

3- Keeping a spirit of equality and partnership

4- Cooperate each other’s development programmes

5- Assisting training and research activities

6- Maximising productivity from projects

7- Building relations with other existing organisations internationally.

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How is it Beneficial for the World?

Many would think that if SAARC was already available to cooperate among the coastal countries, then why BIMSTEC over SAARC? Can BIMSTEC replace SAARC UPSC? BIMSTEC is beneficial for the world as this region is home to 1.5 Billion people, 22% of the world’s population. The member countries produce a GDP of USD 2.7 trillion every year. BIMSTEC countries have maintained an economic growth trajectory rate of 6.5 since 2014-2019, even in the global financial meltdown.

Benefits of BIMSTEC for India

SAARC has not been beneficial for India as Pakistan was a part of the group since the start of SAARC. There were not many differences in SAARC and BIMSTEC UPSC policies, but Pakistan was included in most of the policies where India was included. Due to the political rivalry, trade charges were hiked for India. India was hindered from building a motor vehicle road through Pakistan or even POK, and many more reasons.

BIMSTEC has members who were also in SAARC, but Pakistan was not included. This led to –

1- Building a free trade area which allowed a successful trade of USD 900 billion among the member countries.

2- Increase in India’s positive trade balance with the BIMSTEC member countries. This means the amount of the country’s exports are more than imports, maintaining a positive trade balance.

3- India was not stated as the big brother among the group but as a participating member influencing a positive trade mindset.

4- Boosting the “Act East Policy”, initiated by former External Affair Minister Ms Sushma Swaraj.

5- Making products outside India is also possible through BIMSTEC policy. The manufacturing in India may cost higher than the other council members like Nepal and Myanmar. This will be helpful for both India and participating countries.

6- Development of Northeast India. As the amenities available in the northeastern parts of the country are limited, the government invests minimal resources. As trade will improve in the southeastern region of Asia, the connectivity with Northeast India will also increase, leading to the development of Northeast India.

H5 To Sum-up

As the BIMSTEC region is notably rich in diversity and the member countries are connected, the member countries need to build regional synergy and use the available resources efficiently. Higher trade among the members will build a stronger and dynamic BIMSTEC country relation.

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Can BIMSTEC replace SAARC?Learn how India can use both SAARC and BIMSTEC to build a command over the South East Asian Region. Read this article to know in-depth about BIMSTEC and SAARC for the upcoming UPSC exam.
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Shilpa is a professional web content writer and is in deep love with travelling. She completed her mass communication degree and is now dedicatedly playing with words to guide her readers to get the best for themselves. Developing educational content for UPSC, IELTS aspirants from breakthrough research work is her forte. Strongly driven by her zodiac sign Sagittarius, Shilpa loves to live her life on her own notes and completely agrees with the idea of ‘live and let live. Apart from writing and travelling, most of the time she can be seen in the avatar of 'hooman' mom to her pets and street dogs or else you can also catch her wearing the toque blanche and creating magic in the kitchen on weekends.

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