- Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) came into being on 6 June 1997 through Bangkok Declaration. It mainly aims to create an enabling environment for rapid economic development; accelerate social progress; and promote collaboration on matters of common interest in the region. Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand are its members. Its Secretariat is located in Dhaka. Nepal joined BIMSTEC on 8 February 2004.
- BIMSTEC has 14 priority areas of cooperation, namely i) Trade and Investment ii) Technology iii) Energy iv) Transportation and Communication v) Tourism vi) Fisheries vii) Agriculture viii) Cultural Cooperation ix) Environment and Disaster Management x) Public Health xi) People-to-People Contact xii) Poverty Alleviation xiii) Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime xiv) Climate Change.
- BIMSTEC Summit is the highest policymaking body in BIMSTEC process and is comprised of heads of state/government of member states. So far, only three Summit meetings have been held in 2004, 2008 and 2014. The fourth Summit is to be held in Nepal in 2018.
At the special invitation of the Prime Minister of India, BIMSTEC Leaders attended the BRICS-BIMSTEC Outreach Summit held in Goa, India on 16 October 2016. The Summit was convened with a view to exploring potential areas of cooperation between BRICS and BIMSTEC. Prime Minister of Nepal led Nepali delegation to the Summit. On the sideline of the Outreach Summit, BIMSTEC Leaders’ Retreat was also held. The Retreat reviewed entire gamut of regional cooperation under BIMSTEC and came up with Outcome Document and 16-point Agenda of Action highlighting priority actions to be implemented in a speedy manner.
- Ministerial Meeting (MM) is the second apex policy-making forum of BIMSTEC attended by the External/Foreign Ministers of Member States. Ministerial Meeting is preceded by Senior Official’s Meeting and is represented by Senior Officials (possibly Foreign Secretaries). The 15th Ministerial Meeting was held in Kathmandu on 11 August 2017. In the joint statement adopted by the Meeting, the Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to finalize BIMSTEC Agreements related to Trade, Energy, Transportation, Technology and Terrorism and agreed to enhance cooperation in other areas as well. The meeting also agreed to constitute BIMSTEC Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG) in order to devise a roadmap for BIMSTEC Agenda for 2030.
- Senior Officials’ Meeting (SOM) precedes the Ministerial Meeting and is represented by Senior Officials of Foreign Ministries of the Member States. SOM helps Ministerial Meeting in monitoring and providing overall direction to BIMSTEC activities. To date, 18 regular SOMs have been held and Nepal as the chair convened 17th and 18th Session of SOM in Kathmandu in February and August 2017 respectively. Nineteenth Session of SOM is to be held in Nepal.
- BIMSTEC Working Group (BWG) on a monthly basis at the BIMSTEC Secretariat in Dhaka to follow up progress in each cooperation sector, as well as to study prospects and policies of cooperation. BWG is attended by Ambassadors of BIMSTEC Member Countries to Bangladesh or their representatives, as well as representatives from other concerned agencies. Ambassador of Nepal to Bangladesh in Dhaka chairs BWG meeting. BWG Chairmanship rotates with that of BIMSTEC. BWG reports to SOM.
- Business Forum and Economic Forum are the two important forums under Senior Trade and Economic Officials (STEOM) that ensure active participation of private sector. In Business Forum, private sector representatives from BIMSTEC Member States meet and discuss various issues. Outcome from Business Forum is presented to Economic Forum where private sector has an opportunity to discuss freely with representatives from public sector. Economic Forum reports outcomes of its meetings to STEOM. Seventh Meeting of BIMSTEC Business Forum was held in New Delhi on 21 July 2016.
- High incidence of poverty is a major challenge in BIMSTEC region. Poverty alleviation has received high priority in BIMSTEC. Three ministerial meetings have so far been held in this area. Nepal as lead country for this sector prepared BIMSTEC Poverty Plan of Action (PPA), which was endorsed by the Second Ministerial Meeting held in Kathmandu in 2012. BIMSTEC PPA aims to identify and implement collective actions for poverty alleviation in BIMSTEC Member States through sharing of best practices and identification of common areas of intervention. The First Expert Group Meeting on Poverty Alleviation held in Nepal on 1 November 2017 reviewed BIMSTEC PPA and updated socio-economic indicators of BIMSTEC Member States. Third Ministerial Meeting on Poverty Alleviation held in Sri Lanka on 20 December 2017 adopted Colombo Statement on Poverty Alleviation. The Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to implement BIMSTEC PPA by aligning it with national plans and programs of the Member States.
- With high prospects of intra-regional trade in the region, trade and investment constitutes a priority sector ever since the genesis of BIMSTEC. Framework agreement for Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was agreed upon in 2004, which includes i) tariff concessions on trade in goods, ii) customs cooperation iii) trade in services iv) investment cooperation and v) dispute settlement. Twenty rounds of negotiations have already taken place under Trade Negotiating Committee to finalize four draft agreements, namely i) Trade in goods ii) Protocol to amend Framework Agreement on BIMSTEC FTA, iii) Dispute Settlement Procedures and Mechanism, and iv) Cooperation and Mutual Assistance in Customs Matters. These instruments are expected to be signed in Trade and Economic Ministerial Meeting to be held in Bangladesh. Agreements in Trade in Services and Investment Cooperation are also under consideration. BIMSTEC Trade Facilitation Agreement; Motor Vehicles Agreement/Framework Agreement on Transit, Transshipment and movement of vehicular traffic; and Coastal Shipping Agreement are also under consideration. Early conclusion of these agreements is expected to promote, facilitate and enhance intra-regional trade and will be beneficial for trade for the landlocked country like Nepal.
- Technology is an important area of cooperation under BIMSTEC. The Memorandum of Association (MoA) for the Establishment of BIMSTEC Technology Transfer Facility (TTF) in Sri Lanka is under finalization and is expected to be signed in the Fourth BIMSTEC Summit to be held in Nepal in 2018. TTF aims to develop capacity of Member States mainly in the fields of biotechnology, ICT, space technology application, agricultural technology, health technology, disaster risk reduction technology and nuclear technology.
- Energy cooperation has featured prominently in BIMSTEC agenda. The region has huge hydro-power potential and also potentials for tapping renewable and sustainable energy sources. Two ministerial meetings and four Senior Official Meetings have so far been held in this area. MoU for the Establishment of BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection has been finalized. The MoU is expected to be signed at the upcoming high-level meeting in Nepal. The MoU envisages the establishment of BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection Coordination Committee (BGICC) to undertake BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection Master Plan Study. The MoU will open up avenues for energy trade in the region. Operationalization of BIMSTEC Energy Centre in India will also advance energy cooperation including sharing of experiences and best practices as well as capacity-building.
- Transport connectivity is a key to bring economic dynamism in BIMSTEC region. BIMSTEC Transport, Infrastructure and Logistics Study (BTILS) has been concluded with ADB support. BTILS has identified 167 projects at an estimated cost of US $ 45-50 billion to enhance connectivity in the region. Out of 167 projects, it has prioritized 66 projects. Nepal’s six priority projects listed in BTILS are i) Connection road between integrated check post and inland clearance depot bypass at Birgunj ii) Kathmandu–Terai Fast Track Road iii) Nijgadh–Pathalaiya–Raxaul road upgrade iv) 5 new rail connections with India (v) Major Development of Kathmandu Airport vi) Integrated check post at Birgunj. BIMSTEC Transport Connectivity Working Group (BTCWG) is in charge of developing transport connectivity in the region. The Second BTCWG meeting held in Bangkok in November 2017 finalized draft concept paper on Master Plan on Transport Connectivity and ADB is mandated to provide technical assistance to draft the Master Plan for the consideration of BTCWG. Draft BIMSTEC Coastal Shipping Agreement is also under consideration.
- Tourism has rich potential in BIMSTEC region. Natural beauty and cultural richness of the region can attract millions of tourists within the region and beyond. Two Roundtable and Workshop of Tourism Ministers have been held so far. First Roundtable and Workshop of Tourism Ministers held in Kolkata in February 2005 adopted Plan of Action for Tourism Development and Promotion for BIMSTEC Region. The Plan of Action included setting up of BIMSTEC Tourism Information Center and BIMSTEC Tourism Fund. BIMSTEC Tourism Information Centre has been established in New Delhi, India. Second BIMSTEC Tourism Ministers’ Roundtable and Workshop held in Kathmandu, Nepal on 29 August 2006 agreed to establish BIMSTEC Tourism Working Group (BTWG) to follow up progress on the Plan of Action. First Meeting of BTWG held in India in 2013 decided to set up Tourism Fund with one-time contribution of US$ 10,000 by each Member State in order to support activities approved by BTWG. BIMSTEC Tourism Fund is being administrated by the BIMSTEC Information Centre. 17th BIMSTEC Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) held in Kathmandu, Nepal in 2017 agreed to create a Network of Tour Operators among BIMSTEC Member States so as to promote tourism in the region including through Buddhist Tourist Circuit and luxury cruise. First Meeting of the BIMSTEC Network of Tour Operators held in New Delhi in 2017 recommended working out common marketing strategy such as creation of BIMSTEC brand for tourism; developing common website for promotion; holding annual BIMSTEC Travel Mart/Conclave; developing and sharing common safety protocols for adventure tourism; enhancing public-private partnership for promotion of tourism in BIMSTEC; and holding BIMSTEC Annual Convention on Tourism.
- BIMSTEC region is replete with social diversities, cultural heritage, arts, crafts and traditions. Cultural cooperation is, therefore, an integral part of BIMSTEC cooperation. The Ministerial Meeting on Cultural Cooperation held in Bhutan in May 2006 adopted Concept Paper on Cultural Industries. The Memorandum of Association (MoA) on the establishment of BIMSTEC Cultural Industries Observatory (BCIO) and BIMSTEC Cultural Industries Commission (BCIC) was signed in 2014. BIMSTEC Film Festival was also organized in Dhaka in July 2017. Two Nepali Films: Dying Candle and Kalo Pothi were screened in the event. Bodhi Parva: BIMSTEC Festival of Buddhist Heritage was organized in India on 9-10 December 2017 to mark the 20th anniversary of BIMSTEC. Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation participated in the Festival as Chief Guest. In the inaugural ceremony of the Festival, the Minister highlighted the importance of preserving Buddhist culture and religion in the BIMSTEC region. The Minister further shared the gathering on conservation activities being carried out in Lumbini and also laid emphasis on the need for establishing Buddhist circuit. The importance of Lumbini as the Fountain of World Peace and a hub for Buddhist culture and tradition was also emphasized on the occasion.
- BIMSTEC has been advancing cooperation in fisheries sector. Draft concept paper on BIMSTEC cooperation in fisheries is under consideration. The concept paper has identified global and regional issues such as combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, joint activities in fisheries, climate change effects on fisheries, research in inland/coastal aquaculture and capacity building. Many collaborative activities have also been conducted in this sector such as Meeting of Sectoral Committee on Fisheries in 2001, Expert Meeting in 2004, Workshop on Fisheries Cooperation in 2007, a survey project entitled Ecosystem Based Fishery Management in Bay of Bengal in 2007, and BIMSTEC Fisheries Meeting in 2009.
- Agriculture largely constitutes mainstay of BIMSTEC economies and livelihood of its people. Cooperation on sustainable agriculture and food security is beneficial to all member states. Six Expert Group Meetings on Agriculture have been held so far. The first meeting identified nine common agriculture projects to be carried out by Member States, which was reviewed and reprioritized in the third expert group meeting. The 4th Expert Group Meeting on Agriculture Cooperation held in Kathmandu in April 2015 further advanced agricultural cooperation in the region. The meeting of the sixth expert group on agriculture held in Thailand in December 2017 reviewed identified common projects undertaken by member states. In view of growing demand for pork meat in Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand, Nepal proposed to hold a workshop in 2018 on strengthening regional value chain in pork meat marketing.
- The region is vulnerable to natural calamities such as floods, earthquakes and cyclones that have been causing heavy damages to human lives and property. Cooperation in the field of environment and natural disaster management is essential. At the Eighth Ministerial Meeting held in Dhaka in 2006, environment and disaster management was, therefore, incorporated as an area of regional cooperation. BIMSTEC Centre on Weather and Climate is being established in India following its Memorandum of Association was signed in Third BIMSTEC Summit held in Myanmar in 2014. Action agenda of BIMSTEC Leaders Retreat underlined closer cooperation in disaster management through joint exercises, sharing of information including early warning system, adoption of preventive measures, joint action on relief and rehabilitation, and capacity building. The First BIMSTEC Annual Disaster Management Exercise was held in New Delhi, India on 10-13 October 2017. Nepal participated in the Exercise and shared experiences on crisis management in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes and floods in Nepal.
- BIMSTEC region is equally vulnerable to adverse impacts of climate change. Melting of Himalayan glaciers, outburst of glacial lakes and occurrence of floods and landslides or in sea-level rise are not only posing threat to sustainable development efforts but also to lives and property in the region. It is a high priority area of cooperation in BIMSTEC. A Concept Paper has been drafted to establish a framework of cooperation on climate change. Cooperation on climate change at regional level will complement efforts to implement SDGs and Paris Agreement on Climate Change at national level.
- Mountain economy has been recognized as an important issue under BIMSTEC agenda. Nepal took the lead to prepare concept note on mountain economy. In view of increasing geographical vulnerabilities of mountain economy, strategies have been proposed in the note with a view to developing mountain economy in a sustainable manner and are under the consideration of BIMSTEC Member States.
- Public health continues to feature in the priority agenda of BIMSTEC cooperation as it directly affects the region’s economy and wellbeing of its people. The first BIMSTEC Network of National Center of Coordination in Traditional Medicine: Traditional Medicine Development was held in Bangkok on 29-30 August 2006. Recognizing the importance of traditional medicine in the region, BIMSTEC Task Force on Traditional Medicine has been set up. The first meeting of the task force was held in New Delhi, India on 24-25 October 2017. Concept Papers on Protection of Genetic Resources associated with traditional medicine knowledge and Intellectual Property Rights as well as on priority areas for technical and research collaboration on Traditional Medicine are under consideration. Proper utilization of Nepal’s rich biodiversity including traditional medicine knowledge base will be beneficial to both Nepal and the region as a whole.
- Terrorism and transnational crimes continue to remain key threat to peace and stability in the region. BIMSTEC Member States have expressed their strong commitment to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. Concrete measures have been undertaken to step up cooperation and coordination among law enforcement, intelligence and security organizations in this regard. Joint Working Group (JWG) is working in this area and Five Sub Groups under JWG, namely Sub-Group on i) Intelligence Sharing, ii) Human Trafficking and Illegal migration iii) Legal and Law Enforcement Issues iv) Combating Financing of Terrorism and v) Prevention of Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs, Psychotrophic Substance and Precursor Chemicals are meeting regularly to discuss frameworks of cooperation in their respective fields. Convention on Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism, Transnational Organized Crime and Illicit Drug Trafficking; BIMSTEC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters; and Convention against Trafficking in Persons are also under consideration. Early conclusion of these agreements will help Member States to develop combined capacity building in tackling terrorism and transnational crime. The meeting of the 5th Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime (JWJ-CTTC) in Kathmandu on 24-25 November 2011 held discussions on further cooperation in this area.
First Meeting of National Security Chiefs (NSC) of BIMSTEC Member States held in New Delhi, India on 21 March 2017 decided to deepen security cooperation through undertaking concrete measures for strengthening cooperation and coordination among law enforcement, intelligence and security organizations and enhancing capacity building. Eighth Meeting of Sub Group on Legal and Law Enforcement Issues, Tenth Meeting of Sub-Group on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Financing of Terrorism and Fifth Meeting of Sub-Group on Prevention of Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Precursor Chemicals to be held in Nepal in 2018 will contribute to advance cooperation in these matters.
- People-to-people contact is also a crucial area of regional importance. As per the directive of Second BIMSTEC Summit, BIMSTEC Networks of Policy Think Tank (BNPTT) has been established as a track-II BIMSTEC initiative in order to foster and enhance cooperation and interactions among Member States. BNPTT consists of seven leading policy think-tanks from seven Member States nominated by respective Governments. Centre for Economic Development and Administration (CEDA) of Tribhuvan University acts as the policy think tank of Nepal for BIMSTEC. The recommendation of Third BNPTT Meeting held in Dhaka on 22-23 April 2017 to establish BIMSTEC Eminent Persons Group (EPG) has been endorsed by the 17th Senior Officials Meeting held in Kathmandu in February 2017. EPG is mandated to examine and review entire gamut of BIMSTEC process and provide recommendations on its future directions. Draft ToR of EPG is under consideration of member states.
- The year 2017 constitutes 20th BIMSTEC anniversary of the establishment of BIMSTEC. As part of its celebration, Member States organized various programs and events throughout the year in a befitting manner. On the occasion, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs separately conveyed their messages on 6 June 2017. The Institute of Foreign Affairs also organized an Interaction Program entitled BIMSTEC: The Way Forward in Kathmandu on 18 December 2017.