By Nitya Chakraborty
The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) has made far-reaching recommendations for the creation of a new ‘BIMSTEC’ by strengthening infrastructure linkages, deepening regional transport connectivity, facilitating cross-border trade, investment and tourism, protecting the environment and promoting sustainable use of shared natural resources in the BIMSTEC economies.
The recommendations by a FICCI Core Group of Experts on BIMSTEC are set forth in a report titled ‘Reinvigorating BIMSTEC: An Industry Vision for the Next Decade’ just released. Ambassador Rajiv Bhatia and Mr. Vikramjit Singh Sahney are the Chair and Co-Chair, respectively, of the Core Group.
The BIMSTEC Secretary General, Mr. Shahidul Islam, who unveiled the FICCI report, called for specific steps to rejuvenate the regional grouping through greater political commitment, expeditious negotiations on BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement, adequate funding, BIMSTEC special visas and closer people-to-people contacts. “The time now is to consolidate on the progress made in the last 20 years and take immediate steps to give BIMSTEC a distinct regional flavour,” he said.
Mr. Islam said that FTAs were no panacea for development, but they represented a crucial first step towards spurring growth and development in the region. Bangladesh, he said, had agreed to hold the next round of trade negotiations for concluding the BIMSTEC FTA which should be started without delay. The BIMSTEC Secretariat, he said, needed to be adequately financed as its present budget is a mere US$ 1 million. The FICCI Knowledge report on reinvigorating BIMSTEC suggests funding of $2 billion from India and $1 billion from other member states. “This is the kind of commitment required” to give a fillip to generating meaningful activities in the region, he said.
According to FICCI President, Mr. Rashesh Shah, “The BIMSTEC grouping is home to 1.5 billion people, approximately 22% of the world population and with a combined GDP of close to US $2.7 trillion. Together, the member nations have untapped economic potential to catapult regional trade and investment to the next level and provide a framework to achieve sustainable development. The FICCI Core Group report strives to understand the key drivers of the development paradigm for the region and identify the contours of an economically feasible and result driven approach for BIMSTEC to achieve sustained progress. To fulfil this vision, all stakeholders concerned have to work together for a stable, prosperous and integrated neighbourhood.”
The FICCI Core Group has recommended strategic thrusts in select priority sectors to make BIMSTEC a result-oriented, effective and influential institution. This could be achieved by concluding negotiations for free trade agreements and trade facilitation, strengthening infrastructure linkages, deepening regional transport connectivity, facilitating cross-border trade and investment, and tourism, enhancing private sector participation and competitiveness, supporting regional power trading, developing human resources through mutual cooperation, protecting the environment and promoting sustainable use of shared natural resources, creating the Bay of Bengal Community (BoBC) and, promoting all-round cooperation in ‘soft power’ areas.
The report suggests that FICCI may consider convening a Regional Business Conference of CEOs and experts from BIMSTEC countries to discuss and develop a wider consensus on the core group’s recommendations. On the business-industry dimension, the report makes a number of suggestions. It observes that government-business interface in the functioning of BIMSTEC has remained weak and ineffective. It needs to be strengthened and institutionalised to enable it to produce better results. The report recommends, on the lines of the relevant mechanism in BRICS, a new BIMSTEC Business Council may be established and operationalised as soon as possible. FICCI may serve as the Secretariat for the proposed BIMSTEC Business Council
Further, the industry strongly favours the proposal to craft, develop and promote the ‘BIMSTEC Brand.’ Branding is a proven marketing tool – whether for a product, service, project or institution. It is only by widening and deepening the field of awareness about BIMSTEC as the premier regional grouping that ample support of business enterprises as well as people at large can be created and sustained
The situation demands that the FICCI should help to create the ‘BIMSTEC Brand.’ Stakeholders in other Member States should also be consulted and involved with this initiative so that every member shares a sense of ownership. Apart, BIMSTEC should claim credit for completed and ongoing projects that have been identified and endorsed by the member-governments, and publicise them as the organisation’s achievements. Several projects in the BIMSTEC Transport and Logistics Study have been implemented (some with ADB support), but were not recognised as BIMSTEC’s achievements
A specific recommendation for FICCI is that it may create opportunities for short-term internships in the private sector for interested candidates from BIMSTEC countries and other neighbouring CLMV countries. Apart from enhancing their employability, this initiative will expand the arc of friendship and cooperation. (IPA Service)
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