What is BIMSTEC? BIMSTEC stands for Bay of Bengal Initiative on Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation. It is a regional organisation that came into existence on June 6, 1997, through the Bangkok Declaration in Bangladesh.
Who are the Members of the BIMSTEC Summit?
This organisation comprises seven member countries. The BIMSTEC countries are particularly the states adjacent to the Bay of Bengal. Around 22% of the global population is within the BIMSTEC region.
BIMSTEC has been evolving through various stages:
- The initial stage of the summit had only four member-states: Bangladesh, India, Sri-Lanka and Thailand. Therefore, the initial name of the summit used to be BIST-EC, where BIST are the members and EC stands for economic cooperation.
- It was in 1997 when BIST-EC was renamed BIMST-EC, as a new member state, Myanmar added to the summit.
- Nepal and Bhutan were the last states to be added as members. In 2004, after the addition of these states, BIMST-EC was finally called the present name BIMSTEC.
- The final BIMSTEC members comprise seven countries in total. There are five South Asian nations: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and two Southeast Asian nations: Myanmar and Thailand.
What are the Sectors BIMSTEC Operates in?
As the name suggests, BIMSTEC is a cooperative organisation among South Asian and Southeast Asian countries covering many technological and economic development sectors. The various sectors of BIMSTEC cooperation are as follows:
- Trade and Investment.
- Transportation and Communication.
- Cultural Cooperation.
- Environment and Disaster Management.
- Public Health.
- People-to-People Connect.
- Poverty Alleviation.
- Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime.
- Climate Change.
What are the Working Principles of BIMSTEC?
There are a number of principles on which the BIMSTEC summit is ought to progress:
- Sovereign Equality.
- Territorial Integrity.
- Political Independence.
- No-interference in Internal Affairs.
- Peaceful Co-existence.
- Mutual Benefits.
- Constitute an addition and not be a substitute for bilateral, regional or multilateral cooperation involving the Member nations.
What is the Difference Between SAARC and BIMSTEC?
SAARC and BIMSTEC UPSC questions are usually based on the differences between them and how one of these summits takes over the other in the current situations. Let’s read all the known differences between these two summits:
- While BIMSTEC is a seven-member summit, SAARC has 8 member states: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
- BIMSTEC is a regional organisation looking into economic cooperation among South Asian and Southeast Asian countries. On the other hand, SARCC is limited to South Asian countries.
- SAARC was a product of the Cold War era and was meant to bring peace and cooperation among South Asian countries. BIMSTEC is a post-cold war product that mainly focuses on the technological and economic development among the member-states.
- The intra-regional trade through SAARC has only been 5 per cent, while BIMSTEC has increased the trade by 6 per cent in a decade.
Why BIMSTEC Over SAARC?
Can BIMSTEC replace SAARC UPSC? Such questions should be answered in terms of their potential for the peaceful establishment of multiregional connections. Both of these summits aim at multiregional cooperation, but why BIMSTEC over SAARC?
- SAARC has been known to maintain less cordial relationships among its member nations. BIMSTEC, on the other hand, has been proven better in relationship management as it includes the two influential regional powers – Thailand and India, which add comfort to smaller neighbours by eradicating the fear of dominance by one big power.
- SAARC is a purely regional organisation, whereas BIMSTEC is interregional and attempts at connecting both South Asia and ASEAN.
- BIMSTEC countries share their borders with the northeast along with Myanmar. This will make it an amazing alternative to SAARC in terms of the South Asian and South East nations’ multiregional cooperation.
What are the Challenges Faced by BIMSTEC?
- The seriousness of member states has always been questioned. During its existence of around 20 years, the BIMSTEC summit has only taken place thrice.
- The situations among some pairs of countries hamper the building of cordial bilateral relationships among members. For example, India-Nepal, India-Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh-Myanmar ties struggle because of some political, economic, and social reasons.
- Moreover, there is a growing influence of China on South Asia. This persuades some countries like Bangladesh to admit China as one of the partners. However, India does not support this idea.
- Myanmar is currently dominated by an armed military coup that is being continuously protested by the country’s citizens. This stands as one of the major challenges for the association.
- The uncertainties of member countries with respect to SAARC have also been threatening BIMSTEC. For instance, countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal demand the revival of SAARC.
- The refugee crisis in Bangladesh because of Rohingyas Muslims of Myanmar amplifies the challenges for BIMSTEC.
- There has been the formation of a sub-regional initiative like the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Forum, which also includes the membership of China. Hence, this formation carries the potential to question the potential of BIMSTEC.
- The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was a framework that was decided in 2004, but there is a visible lack in the adoption of the agreement by the BIMSTEC summit. This questions BIMSTEC’s efficacy.
- The permanent secretariat in Dhaka faces a severe resource crunch, both in terms of money and manpower, which has shown pitfalls in the BIMSTEC performance.
Despite its various principles and objectives, BIMSTEC has faced challenges in its performance and efficiency for years. While SAARC and BIMSTEC are often compared, it can also be said that the spontaneous working of these two summits complement each other’s goals and create more areas of improvement. For more UPSC orientated content, visit UPSC Pathshala. Book a free demo class with us and get to know all about our personal mentorship for UPSC preparation. For any information, feel free to reach out to us on our official website.