"On the eve of the 3rd (BIMSTEC) Summit, we note with satisfaction the significant progress achieved in many of the priority areas of cooperation. Yet, much more needs to be done," External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said here.
"We seek to consolidate our partnership and focus on building infrastructure and concrete projects for cooperation. I am delighted that we are establishing our Permanent Secretariat for BIMSTEC in Dhaka; this will greatly help in coordinating our efforts in an effective way," he said in a statement during the 14th BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting.
Bay Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is an expression of India's Look East Policy of the 1990s, coinciding with Thailand's Look West Policy.
The seven members of the grouping are India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal.
BIMSTEC provides a unique link between South Asia and Southeast Asia bringing together 1.5 billion people, over 20 per cent of the world population, and a combined GDP of over USD 2.5 trillion, Khurshid said.
He asserted that in today's inter-linked and inter-dependent world, the commonalities between the BIMSTEC nations provides opportunities to enhance cooperation.
Khurshid called for making BIMSTEC a "vibrant regional entity" and highlighted five key areas for regional cooperation namely security, energy, economy, connectivity and people-to-people contact.
The first, he said was connectivity as the region had a deficiency of infrastructure to provide efficiencies to economies and to enhance mutually beneficial exchanges.
"Our priority should be to provide connectivity, both physical and institutional such that our region can forge ahead in the new era. I am happy that our experts will be meeting between March and June this year to finalise a short list of projects for implementation," Khurshid said.
He said there was no reason why there should not be seamless connectivity between the North East of India and Myanmar and Thailand on one side and with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal on the other.
"We need to revive coastal shipping arrangements and inter-modal transport, practices that had flourished in the past, such that goods and services can flow easily," he said.
Second key area for cooperation that Khurshid pointed out was economic cooperation.
"Our negotiators have been working on a BIMSTEC FTA, and have made significant progress. We should conclude this at the earliest such that the people of the region can benefit from each other.
"In the interim, we also need to promote customs cooperation, conclude a dispute resolution mechanism and encourage business-to-business links that will promote trade and investment in the region," Khurshid said.
He stressed that the strategic imperative of the time was to bring out economic development, promote technology and innovation and provide a better livelihood to the peoples.
Khurshid said the third key area that needed greater regional cooperation was energy.
"The engine of economic development is energy. Our region is blessed with natural resources and cooperation on use of gas, hydro power and renewable energy sources, grid interconnections and coordination on energy policy will enable mutually beneficial development," Khurshid said.
He emphasised on the need for experts to evolve regional energy policies and highlighted that the BIMSTEC Energy Centre being established in Bengaluru could play an important role in this endeavour.
Fourth area of cooperation that needed emphasis and attention of BIMSTEC members, Khurshid said was security.
"We still live in a difficult neighbourhood with the incidence of terrorism and other transnational crimes. I am happy that our group has made significant advances in building the legal architecture to combat such a menace and developed functional cooperation between our agencies," Khurshid said.
"The Convention on Combating Terrorism, signed in 2009, is awaiting ratification in several countries. The Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance is Criminal Matters has been finalised and is ready for signature," he said.
Khurshid called for closer cooperation in this area, saying "a peaceful environment is a pre-requisite for a harmonious society and for progress and prosperity".
The fifth and the final area of cooperation that Khurshid enumerated was people-to-people links.
"This is the strongest link as it brings together our cultural experiences, promotes tourism, youth exchanges and forms and abiding connection," Khurshid said.
"We have a wealth of riches in our historical sites, natural parks and societies which can promote the flow of people across the borders. Such tourism will build closer bonds and promote a cooperative spirit among the people. The experience of the Network of Think Tanks started by Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) is an important contribution in the academic sphere," he said.
India, Khurshid said, was proud to be a member of BIMSTEC with "such worthy partners".
"We are committed to developing our organisation and promoting a strategic perspective to our common efforts such that our region and our peoples can take advantage of the opportunities in this new century. I have no doubt that with our joint efforts we shall create a harmonious and prosperous future," he said.