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Foreign Secretary’s Address at the International Symposium on “BIMSTEC: A Vehicle for Growth and Development” Organized by ISCS Kolkata

October 25, 2021

His Excellency Mr. Tenzin Lekphell, BIMSTEC Secretary General;
Excellencies and dignitaries from BIMSTEC Member States;
Mr. Arindam Mukherjee, Director, ISCS, Kolkata;
Prof. Sachin Chaturvedi, Director General, RIS;
Distinguished guests;

Namaste, good morning and warm greetings to everyone!

2. It is my pleasure to join you all today. I congratulate the organizers for inviting an impressive set of speakers and panelists for the Symposium. I hope that all participants will benefit from the exchange of ideas at this event.

3. Over the past decade, ISCS has been committed to promote research on social and cultural issues that connect the people in our region. The works published by ISCS on diverse topics linking our country with the region are a testimony to its commendable work in bringing us together.

4. I congratulate BIMSTEC Secretary General, Excellency Mr Tenzin Lekphell for his leadership in guiding the activities of the organization in these difficult times. I would like to convey my appreciation to him for sharing his perspective on the way forward for the organization.

5. I would also like to convey my appreciation to Mr. Sachin Chaturvedi for his welcome remarks and setting the tone for today’s event.

6. The theme of the Symposium, "BIMSTEC: A Vehicle for Growth and Development” is indeed timely as our countries try to build back after the unprecedented effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on our lives, economies and well-being of our people. The pandemic has spared none, including the BIMSTEC countries. Today’s event gives us an opportunity to share our experiences and learn best practices from each other in making BIMSTEC a vehicle for growth and development for all of us. BIMSTEC has an added significance for the development of our North Eastern Region.

7. As a former Ambassador to two important BIMSTEC countries, and having dealt with all other BIMSTEC countries in my earlier assignments at headquarters, I have both a personal commitment to and great faith in the organization’s role as a vehicle for regional development and growth.

8. The social and cultural linkages among people in the BIMSTEC region that began over two millennia need no introduction. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his message on the occasion of the 24th BIMSTEC Day, "the people of BIMSTEC are bound by shared history and age old cultural and civilizational linkages.” With 21.7% of the world population and combined GDP of US$ 3.8 trillion, BIMSTEC is a powerful engine of economic growth. During the last decade, the region has registered a compound annual growth rate (GDP growth) of 6.1%. We should collectively strive to surpass this growth rate in the current decade.

9. The origins of BIMSTEC and India’s journey as one of its founding members have a contextual rationale. "Neighbourhood First” and "Act East” - both of which are relevant for BIMSTEC – are the cornerstones of India’s foreign policy.

10. BIMSTEC is unarguably a crucial link in connecting South and South-East Asia. As our Prime Minister has noted, "BIMSTEC has emerged as a promising regional grouping to fulfil the common aspiration of its people and serve the shared interests of its Member States.”

11. For a long time, BIMSTEC process was marked by a high degree of informality, without an institutional structure.

12. It received a major thrust at the BIMSTEC Outreach Summit and Leader’s Retreat in India in October 2016 in which the Leaders agreed to work collectively to make BIMSTEC stronger, more effective and result oriented. Various initiatives in the key areas of security and counter terrorism, connectivity and trade, environment and disaster management, energy and people-to-people contacts were given an impetus, providing much greater visibility to BIMSTEC and its initiatives.

13. BIMSTEC Member States adapted to the challenges of the pandemic and continued their work virtually under the guidance of the Secretary General. As a result, commendable progress has been made in finalizing the BIMSTEC Charter; BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity; BIMSTEC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters; BIMSTEC Technology Transfer Facility (TTF); Cooperation between Diplomatic Academies/Training Institutions; and a template of Memorandum of Association for future establishment of BIMSTEC Centres/Entities. We look forward to the next BIMSTEC Summit to adopt these documents.

14. BIMSTEC Member States also agreed to rationalize priority areas of cooperation into seven sectors with each Member State leading one sector. India has played a proactive role in building capacities of BIMSTEC Member States across various sectors of regional cooperation. At the last Summit in 2018 in Kathmandu, the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India announced several such initiatives to strengthen BIMSTEC cooperation and capacity-building in different areas.

15. I am glad to inform you that most of these initiatives have been implemented, including the hosting of the Startup Conclave; Military Exercise; Ministerial Conclave at the India Mobile Congress 2018; Disaster Management Exercise; Seminar on Climate Smart Farming Systems; training of Diplomats in India etc. Action is being taken on organizing a Tri-Services HADR Exercise, Youth Water Sports and other initiatives in the coming months.

16. As noted by BIMSTEC leaders, robust connectivity is an essential prerequisite for economic integration of the region with smooth cross-border movement of people and goods. The BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity, finalized under India’s chairmanship of the expert group last year, envisages a seamless multimodal transport system across the region with efficient transit facilities to enhance the mobility of goods and people. This will stimulate intra-regional trade and investment in the region. It identifies 264 projects requiring an investment of USD 126 billion over a ten year horizon from 2018–2028. Projects worth USD 55.2 billion are already at different stages of implementation.

17. We need to now collectively develop a strategy for financing and implementing the Transport Connectivity Master Plan. I am happy to note that work in this direction has already begun with ADB conducting the first consultative workshop on financing of the Master Plan last month.

18. The Member States have also made progress on finalizing the BIMSTEC Coastal Shipping Agreement and the Motor Vehicles Agreement, which would provide the legal framework for enhanced connectivity in the region.

19. One of the priority areas of BIMSTEC cooperation is to enhance energy cooperation and expand electricity trade through the establishment of BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection. An MOU for Establishment of the BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection was signed at the Fourth BIMSTEC Summit.

20. The power grid interconnection would enhance energy security of the region by improving diversity of sources and means of supply to each participating country.

21. Development and prosperity can only be achieved where there is peace and security. We all know that security both within the borders and in the littoral region is crucial for our well-being. The relevance of maritime connectivity and security in BIMSTEC is doubly emphasized. Our cooperation in the security sector therefore has a special significance.

22. Our National Security Advisors have met thrice since 2017. They have been working closely and have moved forward in several aspects of security cooperation including counter terrorism, intelligence sharing, cyber security and coastal security in a tangible manner.

23. Disaster management is another important area of collaboration among the BIMSTEC countries having similar geo-climatic conditions. The Bay of Bengal which occupies 0.6% of the global ocean area, is responsible for about four out of five cyclone-related deaths in the world.

24. In addition, our countries lie in one of the most active seismic zones in the world and are prone to earthquakes of high magnitude. The rising sea levels as a result of global warming and climate change have endangered the lives of our people in coastal areas.

25. I am happy to inform that the BIMSTEC Centre for Weather and Climate, being hosted in India, is fully functional with state of the art facilities to provide early disaster warnings.

26. The pandemic has added a new dimension to disaster management. As the lead country for disaster management, India will be organizing a Tri-Services HADR exercise towards the end of this year in the backdrop of the pandemic.

27. Tourism industry is one of the most adversely affected sectors of economy due to the pandemic. In this context, collaboration in intra-regional tourism will be an important facet of post-COVID recovery. As the situation normalizes, strong emphasis shall be laid on developing BIMSTEC brand of tourism.

28. Next year is going to be the silver jubilee year of the establishment of the BIMSTEC. The occasion gives us an opportunity to reinforce our efforts in raising the level of our cooperation and economic integration.

29. In conclusion, I wish to emphasize that India remains strongly committed to further building the momentum towards deepening of regional cooperation under the BIMSTEC framework and assiduously working towards making the organization stronger, more vibrant, more effective and result-oriented.

30. The participation of BIMSTEC Leaders at the Indian Government's swearing-in ceremony in May 2019 was a testament to the importance attached by India to BIMSTEC.

31. I am confident that BIMSTEC would go from strength to strength in the years to come.

32. I am certain that the symposium will have fruitful and productive discussions.

Thank you.

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