India on Friday sought an early conclusion of the proposed BIMSTEC free trade agreement (FTA) and called for greater understanding of “complementaries” among the seven nation grouping. The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) involves a group of countries in South Asia and South East Asia.
BIMSTEC members, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal, had agreed on a framework agreement in 2004 to have an FTA to improve the flow of goods and services in the region. Speaking to reporters, commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman said: “A lot has been said about how we have not still signed an FTA. Yes that is a concern and we shall work actively to get a consensus to have an FTA signed amongst the BIMSTEC countries.”
The BIMSTEC region houses around 1.5 billion people with a combined gross domestic product of $2.7 trillion, most of which is accounted for by India. Since the grouping doesn’t have Pakistan as a member, unlike SAARC, it’s all the more important for India to expedite the FTA with it, analysts have said. This is because the implementation of an agreement to improve trade could be easier for India, they said.
Sitharaman said it was a “shame that to move around in this (BIMSTEC) region which is otherwise very well connected…is so arduous”, stressing the connectivity issues that are an impediment to trade. The minister also favoured boosting sea and port connectivity to make the movement of goods “far more efficient, cost effective and also timely”.
Nepal’s commerce minister Romi Gauchan Thakali said the country is very much committed to converting the “framework agreement into a tangible document at the earliest possible”. Sitharaman hailed the efforts of businesses from countries like Brazil and Russia to participate in the BRICS Trade Fair at a time “when the global demand situation is so depressing”.
FE with PTI