SAARC Making Way for BIMSTEC

Published: May 29, 2019

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has invited leaders of BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) to his swearing-in ceremony on May 30.

This diplomatic gesture to fellow nations along the Bay of Bengal highlights the diminishing returns from India s other regional group SAARC since PM had Modi had invited leaders of the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) in 2014.

Why SAARC was not able to deliver?

  • SAARC comprises of India s immediate neighbours along with strategic allies Afghanistan and Maldives.
  • SAARC has been often overshadowed by India-Pak tensions.
  • In the first edition of the Raisina Dialogue former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga had categorically stated that tensions between India and Pakistan have held back South Asian integration.
  • In the 21st century, trade is one of the key drivers of regional integration. The South Asian Free Trade Agreement has failed to deliver due to the big negative list.
  • India-SAARC trade stood at around $21.5 billion.

Why BIMSTEC is seen as an Alternative?

  • Most of the Indian neighbours except Pakistan are part of the BIMSTEC.
  • When it comes to trade with SAARC, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka accounted for nearly 60 per cent of India s trade with SAARC. Both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are part of BIMSTEC.
  • BIMSTEC also complements India s Act East policy seeks to increase India s trade and civil interactions with ASEAN. Thailand and Myanmar which are part of ASEAN are also part of BIMSTEC.
  • BIMSTEC also provides strategic benefit to India as it unlocks landlocked northeastern states of India by providing greater access.
  • BIMSTEC nations had an average annual rate of economic growth between 3.4% and 7.5% from 2012 to 2016.
  • One-fourth of the world s traded goods pass through the Bay of Bengal. This makes the region strategically important.

India is now seeing BIMSTEC as the potential tool to implement the Neighborhood First initiative.

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