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Dhaka asks Bimstec to be flexible for equitable trade

Daily Star, Dhaka

Dhaka asks Bimstec to be flexible for equitable trade

Our Correspondent, New Delhi

10 August 2006

Bangladesh urged the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) countries to show more flexibility in addressing concerns of all member-countries to ensure equitable trade under the Free Trade Area (FTA) agreement.

Addressing the ninth ministerial meet of the seven member-countries in New Delhi, Bangladesh Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan suggested the setting of goals and targets in areas of mutual cooperation, drawing up charter of the forum and involvement of private sector entrepreneurs, think tanks and NGOs with the inter-governmental process.

Morshed said the negotiations on Bimstec’s FTA were expected to be concluded in time so that it could come into force on July 1, 2006.

"Clearly, we have missed the timeline. Given the current state of negotiations, my apprehension is that unless all member-countries demonstrate further flexibility and willingness to accommodate the concerns of all the member-states to ensure equitable trade, we may fail to see the larger canvass," he said.

Morshed said Bimstec, which brings together India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan, completes its first decade next year and the time has come to think of the road ahead for the regional grouping.

"We need to ponder over the charter of our group. This would be a very useful instrument at disposal of the member-states to carry on collaborative effort in a systematic manner for the benefit of the peoples of our countries," he said adding, "Our main objective in this regard should be to ensure effective delivery."

According to the Morshed, the Bimstec countries should think of goals and targets in identified areas of cooperation and ’what is needed is a result-oriented approach in different sectors’.

In this context, Morshed proposed the Bimstec should review the agenda of regional cooperation on a project-based mode and think of an alternative to realise concrete sectoral projects.

"We need to review how far we have benefited from project-based approach to cooperation and whether we could think of any other way to realise concrete sectoral projects," he said.

He said Bimstec’s activities have so far been inter-governmental in nature but ’we really need to consider how best we could utilise the strength of a dynamic and innovative civil society that exist in our countries’ to promote regional cooperation.

"By civil societies, I mean a range of stake-holders like think tanks, private sector entrepreneurs, businesses, NGOs," he said adding, "We should seriously consider how best they could be involved with the inter-governmental process to facilitate regional cooperation."

Calling for broadening people-to-people contact among Bimstec countries, Morshed suggested more measures like easier movement of professionals, private sector representatives as well as people.

He also proposed involvement of non-member states with Bimstec and pointed out that during Bangladesh’s chairmanship of the grouping, Bangladesh Institute of Strategic Studies had organised a forum with leading Japanese think tank Sasakawa Foundation on possible collaboration between Bimstec and Japan.

"Whatever the form, we collectively need to decide on involvement of non-member states. We need to recognise their growing interest on involving themselves with Bimstec. This could usher in a new era for our organisation. We need to look at developing guidelines for such engagement," Morshed said.

He said the challenge before Bimstec is not only to discuss its potentials but also to focus on initiating actions for ’actualising the immense prospect of regional cooperation’.

Bangladesh suggested rescheduling of the second Bimstec summit, scheduled for February 2007, due to the upcoming parliamentary polls.

Morshed conveyed the request for rescheduling the next summit at the ninth ministerial of Bimstec in New Delhi yesterday, sources said.

They however added that no decision was taken on Dhaka’s request.

The general elections are expected sometime early next year. The first Bimstec summit was held in Thailand in July 2004.