BIMSTEC foreign secretaries start Dhaka meet

Himalayan News Service

Kathmandu, June 1:

Senior foreign ministry officials of the seven-member BIMSTEC began meeting in Dhaka today to review cooperation in six priority areas and make recommendations to proceed further.

Bangladesh will assume chairmanship of the regional economic grouping for the next one year as Thailand concludes its term. The economic grouping set up in June 1997 comprises of Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

BIMSTEC chairmanship rotates in alphabetical order.

The two-day long foreign secretary-level meeting called Senior Officials’ Meeting (SOM) will discuss progress on the BIMSTEC free trade area (FTA) as negotiations are expected to be completed by December for utilising the potential in trade and investment in the region.

The meeting is to review progress and make recommendations on agreed areas of cooperation under the six priority sectors of trade and investment, technology, tourism, transport and communication, energy and fisheries. It will also discuss follow up of the decisions of the first BIMSTEC Summit, last July in Bangkok.

The Nepali delegation, led by foreign secretary Madhu Raman Acharya, is already in Dhaka to participate in the meeting.

According to a senior official at the ministry of foreign affairs, the meeting will also discuss people-to-people contact and issuance of travel cards to businessmen in the BIMSTEC region. “Since this is a regular and follow-up meeting, there will be no concrete step as such,” he said.

He also said that the meeting would likely to propose dates for the next BIMSTEC summit to be held in India.

Bangladesh is the lead country for trade and investment, India for transport, communication and tourism, Myanmar for energy, Sri Lanka for technology and Thailand for fisheries. Thailand is expected to place a report on trade negotiation consultation on FTA during the meeting.

Meanwhile, the fourth round of BIMSTEC trade negotiation committee (TNC) meeting is taking place next week in Colombo. The commerce joint secretary-level meeting will broadly discuss issues that will pave the path for trade in goods under FTA.

A free trade area agreement was signed last February and the agreement covers trade, services and investment. Negotiations are progressing well on specific issues.

The FTA on trade in goods will come into force from July 2006. The five-day long TNC meeting will take place from June 6 to 10. Prachanda Man Shrestha, joint secretary at the ministry of industry, commerce and supplies is leading a four-member delegation at the meeting.

Referring to the rules of origin, sensitive lists, dispute settlement and technical assistance as some of the major issues and prerequisite to enter into a FTA, Shrestha said that the upcoming meeting would cover the issues.

At present trade volume among Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sector Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) member countries stands at $7.3 billion, which is only four percent of the total trade volume.

After identification of new areas to further strengthen economic cooperation, the trade volume among member countries is expected to grow substantially.