India for early free trade pact among BIMSTEC countries

November 13th, 2008 - 2:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi, Nov 13 (IANS) With the global financial crisis in mind, India Thursday called for an early wrapping-up of a free trade area (FTA) pact among seven countries surrounding the Bay of Bengal and underlined the need for greater regional cooperation on issues like terrorism, energy and food security.“I feel that we should do something visible in the area of trade and economic cooperation as a manifestation of our ability to do something big together,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at the plenary of the second Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit here.

“Considerable progress has been made in the negotiations on the BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement for trade in goods. The early conclusion of such an agreement would be a shining symbol of our cooperation,” he said.

“We also look forward to the next stage of an agreement in the area of investment and services.”

The BIMSTEC, a regional grouping which acts a bridge between South and Southeast Asia, comprises India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand and Bhutan.

After his plenary address, Manmohan Singh began talks with 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.

The day-long summit will culminate in a joint declaration.

The visiting leaders will also jointly call on President Pratibha Patil at the end of the summit.

The global financial meltdown, Manmohan Singh stressed, has brought to the fore the need for greater integration among BIMSTEC countries that have a combined GDP of $1.7 trillion and account for nearly one-fifth of the world’s humanity.

“Globalisation and economic interdependence offer opportunities for growth and prosperity but also have their downside, as the recent international economic and financial crisis has amply shown,” he said.

“The 21st century belongs to Asia. Asia will be the engine of the world economic growth,” the prime minister underlined.

“BIMSTEC is an important part of the wider Asian community. It has the potential of playing a vital role in the Asian community of nations linked by effective road, rail, air and shipping services across which there would be free movement of people, capital, ideas and goods.

“This summit provides an opportunity for us to give a new strategic thrust to BIMSTEC in the background of these changes,” Manmohan Singh said, alluding to trans-national challenges like climate change, energy, food security and terrorism that “threaten” development of these countries.

“Terrorism and threats from the sea continue to challenge the authority of the state,” he added.

Setting out an ambitious agenda for intra-regional cooperation, the prime minister asked leaders of BIMSTEC countries to firm up a blueprint and focus on “a limited number of issues” that have the “maximum potential for producing visible results”.

The prime minister underlined the need for greater regional connectivity that could include the construction of a deep-water port to service the region, cooperation among port authorities and shipping and logistics networks of member countries.

Alluding to the Tsunami Early Warning Centre set up by India, Manmohan Singh offered to share data with other BIMSTEC countries and emphasised on regional cooperation in the area of disaster mitigation.

Underscoring the need for robust people-to-people contacts, the prime minister offered to give another 150 scholarships to students form the region and suggested that BIMSTEC could be associated with the proposed Nalanda University.

He also called for a joint promotion of the Buddhist tourist circuit that could draw on the shared cultural heritage of the region.

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