• It was initially started as the grouping of four nations - India, Thailand, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Furthermore, it was called BIST-EC through the Bangkok Declaration of 1977 to promote rapid economic development
      • After the inclusion of Myanmar, the body was renamed BIMST-EC.
      • In 2004 with the inclusion of Nepal and Bhutan, the name of the grouping was changed to "Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral technical and economic cooperation" (BIMSTEC).
      • It represents a region; the member countries are from littoral states and the adjacent region of the Bay of Bengal. It also forms an essential link between south and southeast Asia. 
  • BIMSTEC Priority sectors- 
    • 1988- trade and investment, transport and communication, energy, tourism, technology, fisheries.
    • 2005- agriculture, public health, poverty alleviation, counter-terrorism environment, and disaster management, cultural cooperation, people-to-people contact, transnational crime
    • 2006- climate change.
  • It forms an intra- regional cooperation platform between SAARC and ASEAN members as two members say, Myanmar and Thailand are members of ASEAN.
  • The region of the Bay of Bengal holds prominence as one-fourth of the world's traded goods cross this region.
  • India has invested a lot with BIMSTEC countries. Eg. 
    • Kaladan multi-modal project- it links India and Myanmar.
    • Asian trilateral highway- connecting India and Thailand through Myanmar
    • Bangladesh-Bhutan- India- Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement- for seamless passenger and cargo traffic flow.

Reasons for Retreat of BIMSTEC in 2016-

  • Between 1997- 2015 the total number of meetings in BIMSTEC always remained the same 3. BIMSTEC gained prominence after the Uri attack in 2016, after which SAARC lost its charm. This is popularly called the Isolating Pakistan Argument.
  • India is increasing south-Asian cooperation with its neighbours and isolating Pakistan from its regional group.
  • BIMSTEC Outreach Summit - with the BRICS leaders in Goa in 2016, where India invited leaders of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation; a select group of Asian nations for an outreach session with the leaders of BRICS nations. India took the leadership role, leading to the rise of BIMSTEC over and above SAARC.
  • 4th Leaders summit- was held in Kathmandu in 2018 
    • This led to ambitious plans for economic and security cooperation among these members. 
    • Also, a decision was taken w.r.t the formation of the BIMSTEC Charter. 
    • Came up with a shared goal for all the members for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable bay of Bengal region.

Significance of BIMSTEC for India- 

  • It holds 22% of the world population, and the member states have a combined GDP of U.S. $.3.697 trillion per year.
  • Geostrategic sphere
    • The neighbourhood-first policy of India- these countries are at the immediate peripheries of India and allow India to carry out the neighbourhood-first policy.
    • Act East Policy- BIMSTEC aligns with India's act east policy and is also a connecting link between South Asia and SouthEast Asia.
    • BIMSTEC as a platform allows India to link its North-East region with Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, and the ASEAN nations
  • BIMSTEC, unlike SAARC, can be seen as a part of Indo -The pacific region, as some of the members of BIMSTEC have become very close to china. E.g. Myanmar and Thailand.
  • The organization plays a good factor in making India's major role in Indo-Pacific diplomacy.
  • BIMSTEC can be used as a regional cooperating body bypassing SAARC.
  • It is a sector-driven organization where each country is responsible for a particular sector.
  • India will also act as BIMSTECs security pillar as India is a major security provider or net security provider in the Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean region by countering terrorism and transnational crimes like trafficking, drugs, and crimes related to animals and weapons.

Issues/ Hurdles with BIMSTEC- 

  • Lack of cordial bilateral relations- For any regional body to work, the bilateral relation among the individual members must be cordial. Nevertheless, this is not the case in BIMSTEC, as relationships between India and Nepal are quite strained. Lately, relationships are getting strained between India and Sri Lanka; Bangladesh and Myanmar are having tough problems cooperating with each other because of the Rohingya refugee influx from the Rakhine state of Myanmar to Bangladesh, the border conflict between Myanmar and Thailand. 
  • Confusion prevails regarding how BIMSTEC can be utilized over and above SAARC because Nepal and Sri Lanka want the revival of SAARC. 
  • The threat of China's intrusive diplomacy as Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand are very close to China. Because of this, the success of regional cooperation bodies like BIMSTEC is very difficult.
  • Alladers have made efforts to expand their dialogues involving the vibrant business communities.
  • Fundamental intrinsic problem- it does not hold its summit, which is supposed to be held every two years. So far, only four summits have been conducted, although BIMSTEC will complete its 25 years in 2023.
  • BIMSTEC receives attention from New Delhi only after losing the workable relationship with Pakistan 
  • It is only acting as a counter-force to the existing SAARC organization. 
  • The BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement was negotiated in 2004, but there has yet to be practical advancement, and it is lying in cold storage. 
  • It has only been involved in humanitarian works. Considerable considerably to before on the trade and economic front. 
  • There has yet to be substantial progress in reducing the tariff barriers among the nations to increase trade. 
  • Countries' domestic issues are overshadowing the BIMSTEC summits. E.g. military coup in Myanmar financial crisis in Sri Lanka.
  • The formation of other sub-regional initiatives like Bangladesh- china- india- Myanmar (BCIM) Forum, with the proactive membership of China, has created more doubts about the exclusive potential of BIMSTEC.

Way forward

  • Conclusion of the free trade agreement between the members of BIMSTEC.
  • Increasing security cooperation between members where India can play a larger role as a net security provider.
  • Confidence-building measures among BIMSTEC members and India to gain confidence while creating a counter force over Chinese presence.
  • Faster delivery of Infrastructure projects by India will give it a good reputation.
  • De- hyphenation policy should be a part of India's external policy in BIMSTEC. India should take SAARC and BIMSTEC as separate entities and work accordingly.

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