BIMSTEC meeting to settle pending issues

Kathmandu, June 18:

In a bid to build consensus over implementation of regional agreement on free trade, commerce joint secretaries of the seven-member bloc of BIMSTEC are meeting in Thimphu from today.

The 14th meeting of trade in goods committee of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is expected to thrash out outstanding issues such as negative list for trade on goods, rules of origin (RoO) and dispute settlement among others.

Although senior government officials of BIMSTEC member countries have already held 13 such meetings to resolve these issues, they are yet to reach a consensus on number of issues. As a result, they have already failed the deadline of July 1, 2006 to implement the regional free trade pact.

Ongoing political upheavals in some of the member countries as well as the lack of adequate homework by participating officers are said to be delaying the goal of creating a free trade area among the countries of Bay of Bengal region.

A five member Nepali delegation led by Ravi Aryal, under-secretary at the ministry of industry, commerce and supplies (MoICS) today left for Thimphu to participate in the meeting.

BIMSTEC is the regional free trade bloc comprising of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand as its members. It has also

made special provisions for least developed countries (LDCs) like Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal, like in SAFTA.

“The meeting is expected to hold deliberations on general and fast track issues of identifying negative lists, safeguard measures, rules of origin (RoO), preferential goods and enhancing regional cooperation,” said a member of the Nepali team. He also informed that member countries are expected to exchange negative lists, general rules of origin and product specific rules of origin as well as seek ways to settle dispute between member countries.

The official also said that the meeting would mainly focus on trade in goods as agreed before

to settle the issues on trade on goods first and then enter into negotiations for trade in services and investment.

The volume of intra-regional trade currently stands at 15 per cent of the total trade, in which India, Thailand and Sri Lanka are three major players and have a domination of over 70 per cent.

The regional trade bloc has not yet been able to increase the trade volume amongst its member countries.

The Nepali delegation comprises of officials from ministries of foreign affairs and law and parliamentary affairs and department of customs.

Although the meeting is being held at the joint secretary level, the Nepali delegation is being led by an under-secretary.