Terror, trade to top BIMSTEC ministers’ agenda

August 27th, 2008 - 6:25 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 27 (IANS) Terrorism is set to dominate the agenda when foreign ministers of seven South and Southeast Asian countries meet here Friday to firm up a plan for combating the common scourge and for boosting intra-regional trade and economic cooperation. Senior officials of seven members of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) began their two-day discussions here Wednesday to work out their recommendations that will be discussed at the foreign ministers’ meeting Friday.

They are likely to discuss a proposed pact on combating terrorism for approval by the foreign ministers, an official source said.

The pact, which will focus on closer coordination and intelligence sharing on terror outfits active in the region, is expected to be signed at the BIMSTEC summit India will be hosting in November.

The foreign ministers of India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand will be participating in the discussions Friday.

The pact is being planned on the lines of the one signed by the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) at its summit in Colombo early this month.

The pact has acquired an added urgency in view of a spate of recent terror attacks in India, an escalation in activities of extremists and terrorists in countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the increasing region-wide networking among terror outfits.

Setting up a permanent secretariat for BIMSTEC, which currently functions from Bangkok, will also be high on the agenda. This issue is, however, likely to see some renewed lobbying by Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Thailand who are keen to host the secretariat. A decision on this is likely to be taken at the foreign ministers’ meeting here.

Increasing intra-regional trade and connectivity will be a major focus of discussions among BIMSTEC countries, that accounts for 21 percent of the world’s population.

The regional bloc is awaiting a study by 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 regional bloc.

Nepal’s newly appointed Foreign Minister Upendra Yadav will be representing his country at the BIMSTEC meeting that will mark the first high-level contact between New Delhi and Kathmandu since Prachanda became the first prime minister of the Himalayan republic.

BIMSTEC was formed by five countries - Thailand, India, Burma, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka - in 1997. Nepal and Bhutan later joined the group as members.

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