Leaders from the seven-nation Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation on Tuesday vowed to jointly combat the growing threat of terrorism, transnational crimes and drug trafficking and agreed to intensify efforts to enhance connectivity and cooperation in areas like trade, energy and environment.
The 3rd BIMSTEC Summit Declaration, issued at the end of the meeting of leaders from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal, said the members recognised the threat that terrorism poses to peace, stability and economic progress and agreed for closer cooperation in combating all forms of terrorism and transnational crimes.
The leaders called for expediting the ratification for entry into force of the BIMSTEC Convention on Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism, Transnational Organized Crime and Illicit Drug Trafficking and also for the early signing of the BIMSTEC Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, the two issues flagged by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his address to the summit.
The BIMSTEC brings together over 20 per cent of the world population, which is about 1.5 billion, and a GDP of over $2.5 trillion. Singh said the nature of the evolving threat of terrorism in the BIMSTEC region has imparted greater urgency for stronger cooperation to counter it, asserting that their security is "indivisible".
Noting that the region faces many common challenges -- from natural disasters to terrorism, he said these have to be collectively addressed to make an important contribution to peace, harmony, security and prosperity in Asia and the world.
"Like our prosperity, our security, too, is indivisible -- whether it is the security of sea lanes of communication in our region or the persisting challenges of terrorism and transnational crimes," he told leaders of the grouping.
"The nature of the evolving threat of terrorism in the BIMSTEC region has imparted greater urgency for stronger cooperation to counter it," he stressed.
Myanmar President U Thein Sein said faced with new threats of non-traditional and transnational challenges of climate change, natural disasters, energy and food security, the grouping has to combine its strengths and resources to engage with other international bodies in addressing these problems.
"In this age of globalisation, regional and sub-regional groupings of nations with common culture and interests are no longer a matter of choice, but the need of the hour," he said.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked the grouping to take a "unified" stand to seriously consider the adverse impacts of climate change. Global assessments indicated that natural disasters in the region would increase in frequency and intensity, she warned.
Three pacts were inked at the day-long Summit. One was a Memorandum of Association on the BIMSTEC Permanent Secretariat which will be set up in Dhaka to coordinate and facilitate the implementation of activities and projects agreed by the grouping. It was signed by External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and his counterparts from the other six countries.
A Memorandum of Association was signed for establishment of a BIMSTEC Centre for Weather and Climate in India to promote cooperation in identified areas of fundamental and applied scientific research in weather prediction and climate modelling and capacity building in weather and climate research.
A memorandum of Understanding was also signed for setting up of a BIMSTEC Cultural Industries Commission and BIMSTEC Cultural Industries Observatory by the foreign ministers of the grouping.
The declaration said the leaders decided to move forward towards finalisation of the draft Agreement on Trade in goods with agreed general rules of origin and project specific rules.
It was also decided to work in the direction of signing an agreement on dispute settlement procedures and another on cooperation and mutual assistance in customs matters under the framework agreement on the BIMSTEC Free Trade Area.
The leaders agreed to enhance cooperation in the field of agriculture, including crops, livestock and horticulture besides fisheries. They resolved to enhance cooperation in environmental protection and sustainable development and promote capacity building in the area of disaster management.
BIMSTEC leaders also agreed to enhance cooperation in the health sector, including on traditional medicine. They reinforced their commitment to expand efforts to further promote people-to-people exchanges and linkages at various levels among BIMSTEC countries, including facilitating travels by easing visa norms.
Welcoming the setting up of BIMSTEC Network of Policy Think Tanks, they agreed to cooperate and coordinate for organising short-term activities such as workshops, seminars and exchange programmes.
Sumith Nakandala of Sri Lanka was appointed as the first secretary general of BIMSTEC. Nepal will be the new chair, taking over from Myanmar.
Image: Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh at the third Summit of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation at Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar. Photograph: PIB