Countering terrorism, enhancing regional connectivity and boosting trade will be dominating agenda of the fourth Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit in Kathmandu on August 30-31, which will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a host of leaders from the region.
Modi, who will travel for the summit on Thursday, said on Wednesday, “My participation in the Summit symbolises India’s highest priority to our neighbourhood and our strong commitment to continue deepening our relationship with the extended neighbourhood in South-East Asia.”
During the summit, the Prime Minister said, he will have interactions with all the leaders of BIMSTEC to further enrich regional cooperation, enhance trade ties and advance collective efforts to build a peaceful and prosperous Bay of Bengal region.
“I am confident that the Fourth BIMSTEC Summit will further consolidate the progress made thus far under BIMSTEC, and will chart the course for building a peaceful and prosperous Bay of Bengal Region,” he said.
On the sidelines of the BIMSTEC Summit, he will have the opportunity to interact with the leaders of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand, the Prime Minister said.
Modi and Nepal’s Prime Minister K P Oli will also inaugurate the Nepal Bharat Maitri Dharmashala at the Pashupatinath temple complex.
The leaders at the summit are likely to deliberate on having a tri-services military exercise among the member nations besides exchanging views on a free trade agreement, Secretary (East) in the MEA Preeti Saran told reporters.
The BIMSTEC is a regional grouping comprising Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal. The grouping accounts for 22 per cent of the global population, and has a combined gross domestic product of USD 2.8 trillion.
This will be Modi’s fourth visit to Nepal after becoming Prime Minister in 2014.
India has been pushing for making the BIMSTEC a vibrant forum for regional collaboration as cooperation under the SAARC framework is not moving forward. Citing continuing support to cross-border terrorism from Pakistan, India has been maintaining that it was difficult to proceed with SAARC initiative under current circumstances. BIMSTEC excludes Pakistan.
As Pakistan was blocking connectivity initiatives such as the SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA), India is now pushing for similar pact in BIMSTEC with an aim to enhance regional trade.
Saran said the BIMSTEC inaugural plenary session will be held in the afternoon of August 30 followed by a gala dinner and a cultural programme to be hosted by Nepal.
India had organised the BIMSTEC Leaders’ Retreat in Goa in October 2016 during which the grouping had endorsed New Delhi’s effort to corner Pakistan on terror.
Saran said enhancing collaboration in the areas of regional connectivity, coastal shipping, space, energy, transport and tourism will be the focus of the summit, adding that the bloc was looking at firming up agreements in a number of key areas.
Next day, the leaders will have a “retreat session” to be followed by a closing session. At the end of the summit, the BIMSTEC will come out with a declaration.