The inaugural BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers’ Retreat was successfully held in Bangkok, Thailand, yesterday, demonstrating the dedication of the seven member countries to strengthen and revitalize the group. Chaired by H.E. Mr. Don Pramudwinai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, the retreat witnessed active participation from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.
During the retreat, the ministers recognized the retreat’s value as an informal platform for exchanging ideas and unanimously emphasized the need to enhance BIMSTEC’s organizational framework and collaborative mechanisms. Their objective is to elevate BIMSTEC into a more effective institution that contributes to the region’s growth and prosperity. The ministers engaged in fruitful discussions on regional and global issues of common concern.
Consensus on key issues
There was a consensus on the importance of establishing crisis response mechanisms to effectively address various contingencies. Key areas of focus during the discussions included food security, public health, energy, financial stability, trade, and economic cooperation. Additionally, the ministers explored possibilities for implementing digital payment systems, strengthening trade settlements, enhancing cyber security, and combating transnational crimes.
The ministers underscored the need for exchanging views and coordinating efforts on global and UN-related matters, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and climate change. The session also covered diverse topics, including BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection, agricultural technology, cultural cooperation, youth exchange, and diplomatic training.
The ministers expressed their appreciation for the establishment of an Eminent Persons Group, tasked with creating a roadmap for maximizing the benefits of BIMSTEC for member countries and their populations.
To ensure continuous dialogue and progress, the ministers agreed to hold regular retreats, preferably in the first quarter of each year. Furthermore, India extended an invitation to host the next BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting on the sidelines of the upcoming UNGA in September 2023.
Thailand currently holds the chairmanship of BIMSTEC for the term 2022-2023 and remains committed to propelling the region towards a “Prosperous, Resilient, and Open BIMSTEC” or “PRO BIMSTEC” by 2030.
AK Abdul Momen Asks Proposes Emergency BIMSTEC Relief Fund
The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh expressed great satisfaction in recognizing the significant role played by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as one of the founding leaders who contributed to the establishment of BIMSTEC in 1996. Bangladesh wholeheartedly supported the concept of external partnerships, the formation of an Eminent Persons’ group, and the hosting of the BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers’ Retreat. Bangladesh also expressed its readiness to host the second Foreign Ministers’ Retreat. Furthermore, the ministers reached an agreement to hold a dedicated Foreign Ministers’ Retreat annually during the UNGA in New York.
In addressing regional and global issues of mutual concern, Bangladesh proposed the establishment of an emergency relief fund to address contingencies arising from public health pandemics, natural disasters, and humanitarian crises. The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh also put forth the idea of creating institutions similar to the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Centre (AHA) within BIMSTEC.
Regarding post-pandemic economic recovery, there was a focus on introducing a cross-border digital payment system, finalizing the BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement, exchanging best practices in nursing and tourism, and recognizing university degrees. The Foreign Minister emphasized the importance of presenting a united voice from BIMSTEC in addressing the adverse impact of climate change during global negotiations.
The Foreign Minister stressed the imperative of maintaining peace and stability in the BIMSTEC region to ensure sustainable growth and development. In this regard, the Foreign Minister urged BIMSTEC members to create an enabling environment that would facilitate the repatriation of internally displaced Myanmar nationals currently residing in Bangladesh. The Foreign Minister also called for collective action against cross-border terrorism, the eradication of drug and human trafficking, and discussed mechanisms to ensure energy security, food security, and cyber security in the BIMSTEC region.
Following the successful retreat, the BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers collectively paid a visit to Thai Prime Minister H.E. Prayut Chan-o-Cha at the Government House in Bangkok. Additionally, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh held bilateral meetings with counterparts from India, Thailand, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka on the sidelines of the retreat.
Importance of creating crisis response mechanisms
As per a statement issued by Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers engaged in discussions regarding the potential implementation of digital payment systems and trade settlements, underscoring the importance of reinforcing cooperation in the fields of cyber security and the prevention of transnational crimes.
The leaders expressed their satisfaction with the progress made in establishing an Eminent Persons Group, which is tasked with creating a roadmap aimed at maximizing the benefits for member countries and their populations.
The statement emphasized the unanimous agreement among the ministers on the significance of establishing crisis response mechanisms to effectively coordinate various contingencies. The discussions held during the meeting focused on vital aspects such as food security, public health, energy, financial security, trade, and economic cooperation.
Furthermore, the meeting deliberated on the establishment of digital payment systems and trade settlements, as well as enhancing collaboration in cyber security and the prevention of transnational crimes.
India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar meets Dr. Abdul Momen
In Bangkok, on July 17, 2023, the Minister of External Affairs, S Jaishankar, engaged in a meeting with AK Abdul Momen, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh. This meeting followed their previous interaction on June 12, 2023, during the G20 Development Ministers’ Meeting held in Varanasi.
The meeting took place on the sidelines of the BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers’ Retreat, which occurred in Bangkok, Thailand. During their discussions, the two ministers addressed various subjects of mutual interest.
In a tweet, EAM Jaishankar expressed his satisfaction, stating, “Had a productive meeting with FM AK Abdul Momen of Bangladesh. Discussed a range of bilateral issues and regional developments. Agreed to increase the frequency of our meetings to further explore these ideas.”
The bilateral relationship between India and Bangladesh is characterized by a strong sense of cooperation and mutual understanding. Over the years, the two countries have collaborated on multiple fronts, including trade, border security, and water sharing, with the objective of promoting regional stability and fostering shared prosperity. This robust partnership is built upon a foundation of trust and shared historical, cultural, and economic ties.
Mechanism of BIMSTEC
In Bangkok on June 6, 1997, the formation of a sub-regional grouping called BIST-EC (Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand Economic Cooperation) took place. Later, during a special Ministerial Meeting in Bangkok on December 22, 1997, Myanmar was included, and the group was renamed ‘BIMST-EC’ (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand Economic Cooperation). Nepal joined as an observer in 1998, and in February 2004, both Nepal and Bhutan became full members of the organization. On July 31, 2004, during the first Summit, the grouping was renamed as BIMSTEC, which stands for the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation.
In each Member State, the Ministries of External/Foreign Affairs/Foreign Relations have established National Focal Points (NFP) to serve as the primary channels for all BIMSTEC-related communications and coordination between the BIMSTEC Secretariat and the Member States.
BIMSTEC operates as a hierarchical organization consisting of five tiers, which are as follows:
- The Summit: This level involves the participation of Heads of State or Government from the Member States.
- The Ministerial Meeting: This tier comprises the Ministers responsible for foreign relations of the Member States.
- The Sectoral Ministerial Meetings: These meetings involve the participation of Ministers responsible for specific sectors involved in implementing BIMSTEC activities.
- The Senior Officials’ Meeting: This level consists of Foreign Secretaries, Secretaries, or other designated senior officials from the BIMSTEC Member States.
- The BIMSTEC Permanent Working Committee (BPCW): This committee is composed of senior officials from the National Focal Points of the Member States.
Through this well-structured framework, BIMSTEC ensures effective coordination and collaboration among Member States at various levels. This structure facilitates smooth communication and decision-making processes within the organization.
Regional and global issues for Cooperation of mutual concerns
According to a statement from Thailand’s Foreign Ministry, the BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers stressed the significance of engaging in discussions and coordinating efforts on global and UN-related issues, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and climate change. The BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers Retreat also covered various other topics such as BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection, agriculture technology, cultural cooperation, youth exchange, and diplomatic training.
The BIMSTEC organization consists of 14 primary sectors, focusing on technological and economic cooperation among South Asian and Southeast Asian countries along the Bay of Bengal coast. These sectors include Trade & Investment, Transport & Communication, Energy, Tourism, Technology, Fisheries, Agriculture, Public Health, Poverty Alleviation, Counter-Terrorism & Transnational Crime, Environment & Disaster Management, People-to-People Contact, Cultural Cooperation, and Climate Change. Sectors 7 to 13 were added during the 8th Ministerial Meeting in Dhaka in 2005, while the 14th sector was added during the 11th Ministerial Meeting in New Delhi in 2008. Each sector is led by a designated member nation.
The BIMSTEC framework facilitates cooperation among member countries by providing training and research facilities in educational, vocational, and technical fields. It promotes active collaboration and mutual assistance in areas of common interest, covering economic, social, technical, and scientific domains. The organization aims to foster socio-economic growth within its member countries through support and cooperation.