BIMSTEC leaders to discuss terror, trade, transport

November 12th, 2008 - 8:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi, Nov 12 (IANS) Foreign ministers of seven member countries of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Wednesday firmed up a multi-faceted agenda revolving around free trade, greater connectivity and a convention on combating terrorism for the second summit of their leaders here Thursday. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee held talks with his counterparts from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand and Bhutan on a wide range of issues aimed at intensifying intra-regional cooperation in areas ranging from energy, agriculture and transportation to trade, technology, tourism and countering terrorism.

The seven ministers also gave finishing touches to a convention on combating terrorism which is likely to be signed at the summit meeting of their leaders Thursday, official sources said.

The pact on terrorism will focus on closer coordination and intelligence sharing on terror outfits active in the region. It will deal with legal and law enforcement issues and focus on combating financing of terrorism and prevent illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.

The pact is likely to be on the lines of the one signed by the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) at its summit in Colombo earlier this year.

The pact has acquired an added urgency in view of the increasing region-wide networking among terror outfits and a spurt in extremism and terrorism in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will hold talks with his counterparts from seven countries at the second BIMSTEC summit, which will be held at Hotel Taj Palace here Thursday.

Manmohan Singh, Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda”, Bangladesh’s Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed, Myanmar’s Prime Minister Thein Sein, Bhutan’s Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley, Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Thai Premier Somchai Wangsawat will come out with a joint declaration at the end of the summit.

They will jointly call on President Pratibha Patil at the end of the day-long summit.

The global financial meltdown and its ramifications on the region will figure prominently in discussions. The seven leaders are likely to focus on intensifying intra-regional trade and will give a political push to the proposed free trade agreement between them.

The BIMSTEC countries account for 21 percent of the world’s population.

Despite the global economic crisis, BIMSTEC is excepted to perform better, Yogendra Kumar, additional secretary in the external affairs ministry, said at the BIMSTEC Business Summit here Wednesday.

“A Free Trade Agreement (FTA) amongst India and BIMSTEC region is in the pipeline,” he said at the business conclave organized by apex chambers of commerce and industry.

The seven members are also planning to capitalize on their shared cultural heritage and are working on a proposal for a joint promotion of Buddhist tourist circuit.

“Asian Buddhist Heritage Packages combining all the important Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan amongst the BIMSTEC members could be highly attractive,” said Nagesh Kumar, director general, Research and Information System for Developing Countries.

Setting up a permanent secretariat for BIMSTEC, which currently functions from Bangkok, will also be on the agenda.

The regional bloc is awaiting a study by the Asian Development Bank on transport infrastructure and logistics to promote greater connectivity in the region.

Energy security and issues relating to environment and climate will also be discussed. India is pushing for setting up a joint weather and climate centre and an energy centre - proposals that have found wide support in the grouping.

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