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Statement by External Affairs Minister at the 15th BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting in Kathmandu (August 11, 2017)

August 11, 2017

Your Excellency Mr. Krishna Bahadur Mahara,
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Nepal;
Your Excellencies, Foreign Ministers of BIMSTEC Member States;
Secretaries, Secretary General of BIMSTEC, Distinguished delegates.


At the outset, I congratulate Your Excellency Krishna Bahadur Mahara on your election as Chairperson of this Meeting. I also convey our gratitude to the Government of Nepal, for their warm welcome and hospitality.

Friends,

I am delighted to be back in Nepal today. This is my first visit outside India after my long illness, since BIMSTEC is a regional grouping to which we attach the highest importance.

We are meeting in a landmark year, when BIMSTEC is observing its 20th anniversary. BIMSTEC brings together like-minded countries with a common commitment for prosperity of its people representing one-fifth of world humanity. BIMSTEC is also one of the fastest growing regions in the world.

BIMSTEC enjoys the unique strengths of connecting South and South-East Asia. It links the ecologies of the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal. With shared histories, values and ways of life, it is the natural platform, to build our common future. BIMSTEC represents our common desire for peace and development.

For India, BIMSTEC is a natural choice to fulfil our key foreign policy priorities of 'Neighbourhood First' and 'Act East'.

We were honoured to host the BIMSTEC Leaders Retreat, during the BRICS-BIMSTEC Outreach Summit in Goa in October 2016. At the Retreat, our leaders pledged to make BIMSTEC stronger, more effective and result oriented. They also agreed on an action agenda to achieve greater connectivity, trade, people-to-people contacts, and sustainable use of resources.

Excellencies,

Among the priority areas of Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime; Transport & Communication; Tourism; and Environment & Disaster Management, where India is the lead country, I am happy to note the progress made in these areas.

Excellencies,

Peace and security are essential for development to take place. The First Meeting of BIMSTEC National Security Chiefs in New Delhi in March 2017 adopted a holistic approach to tackle traditional and non-traditional security challenges, that threaten our region. We worked out collective strategies to counter the scourge of terrorism, violent extremism & transnational crimes, as also to strengthen our maritime & cyber security cooperation. Specific follow-up measures in these areas are now under progress.

Our region is vulnerable to a variety of disasters due to its geo-climatic conditions. To build regional capacities, India is hosting the first BIMSTEC Disaster Management Exercise in October 2017. This will help us develop quicker, coordinated and comprehensive responses to disasters, and provide timely relief and rehabilitation.

Intra-regional tourism got a boost with the launch of the BIMSTEC Network of Tour Operators recently in New Delhi. This first-of-its kind platform has brought industry and stakeholders from across our region together. Promotion of intra-BIMSTEC tourist circuits, joint marketing strategies, and BIMSTEC specific tourism products, notably the Buddhist circuit, would allow tourists to experience our rich and shared civilizational heritage. May I add, that India has also further liberalized its tourist e-visa visa norms, which makes it easier for foreign tourists to visit our neighbouring countries when they are on a trip to India.

Excellencies,

Enhanced connectivity is vital to achieving our common goals of growth, employment & prosperity. To achieve smoother cross-border flows of trade and people, we need to put in place the enabling soft infrastructure such as the Framework Agreement on Transit, Trans-shipment and movement of Vehicular Traffic; & the Agreement on Coastal Shipping, at the earliest.

Energy is considered the engine of economic development. Our region is blessed with abundant energy resources. I am happy to note, that cross-border exchange of power between India, Nepal, Bhutan & Bangladesh is on a rapid upswing. The BIMSTEC MOU on Grid Interconnection, which has been finalized, would further facilitate regional energy trade. In India, a massive programme to harness renewable energy is transforming our energy landscape. Let us build a strong renewable energy partnership to tackle climate change together, for a greener world tomorrow.

BIMSTEC has a combined GDP of over USD 2.85 trillion. There remains however an immense unfulfilled potential for deeper economic integration. Along with the work on BIMSTEC FTA, the BIMSTEC Trade Facilitation Agreement and the BIMSTEC Agreement on Mutual Assistance on Customs Matters would fasten trade, and must be concluded at the earliest.

In the area of public health, I am happy to inform of a unique initiative - the BIMSTEC Tele-medicine Network that was launched recently by one of our premier medical institutes JIPMER (जिपमर). The Network brings together ten top hospitals and medical institutes in the region to provide cutting edge tele-medicine services. The BIMSTEC Task Force on Traditional Medicine would be meeting in India in October 2017 to strengthen the role of traditional medicine for holistic health care.

Excellencies,

To mark the 20th Anniversary, India is undertaking a wide range of initiatives, involving a number of institutions, industry associations, and think-tanks as stakeholders in BIMSTEC. These include high level multi-sectoral conferences; a trade and tourism expo; a Start-up Summit to boost innovation by bringing start-ups from the region together; a business conclave to showcase ready-to invest projects; and festivals on our Buddhism heritage and for our youth. These initiatives would not only promote trade, investments, innovation and people-to-people contacts, but would also enhance the visibility of "Brand BIMSTEC”. We look forward to your presence in these events.

Excellencies,

Our collective resolve to impart a fresh dynamism to BIMSTEC has provided hope and optimism to our people. Prime Minister Modi looks forward to attending the fourth Summit, as we work together to fulfil the aspirations of our people with an outcome-oriented and people-centric approach to regional cooperation.

Thank you.
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