Having realised the need to enhance bilateral and multilateral cooperation in economic, social, political and other spheres, many nations around the world have joined one regional organisation or the other. Some of the regional blocs like the European Union (EU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have remained proactive in strengthening collaboration among the member states in a host of areas such as trade, fighting with terrorism and other problems. Despite having a lot of prospects, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has not been so dynamic as it was expected in its establishment phase. However, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) has emerged as an active sub-regional organisation. Founded in June 1997 through the Bangkok Declaration, BIMSTEC has now seven member states — five from South Asia (Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India) and two from Southeast Asia (Thailand and Myanmar).
Originally, the sub-regional organisation had only four member states — Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. During that time, it was known as Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation with the abbreviation of 'BIST-EC'. As this grouping adopted the policy of expansion, BIMSTEC incorporated Myanmar into it in December 1997. Nepal and Bhutan joined this economic bloc in 2004. Since then, the organisation has been known as BIMSTEC. The members of this organisation are among nations dependent on the Bay of Bengal. This grouping holds a lot of significance as it bridges between South and South East Asia and deepens relations among the nations located in these regions. Thus, this bloc contributes to bolstering an intra-regional cooperation between the SAARC and ASEAN members. BIMSTEC is home to about 1.6 billion people and has a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of over US$ 3 trillion.
Harnessing shared and faster economic growth through the promotion of mutual cooperation in various areas of collective interests has been one of the objectives of BIMSTEC. This bloc aims to boost the grouping's economy lessening dependence on globalisation and capitalising on regional resources and geographical advantages. The bloc focusses on a variety of sectors ranging from trade, technology, energy, transport, tourism, fisheries, agriculture, public health, poverty alleviation, counter-terrorism, environment, culture, people-to-people contact to climate change. As a BIMSTEC member, Nepal has always been in favour of strengthening this bloc to help realise its objectives. In this context, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has called for garnering the requisite political will to ensure that BIMSTEC process rekindles hope and reignites imagination.
Addressing the fifth BIMSTEC Summit virtually on Wednesday, Deuba appealed to all the member nations to breathe a new life into the organisation by pooling strengths and resources. "We must better frame the future of cooperation to translate our ambition into action for our peoples, our countries, and our region," he added. The Summit is being held in Colombo of Sri Lanka. The Fourth Summit that was held in Kathmandu last year is regarded as a significant marker of the renewed urgency recommitting to building a robust BIMSTEC. The Prime Minister said that the Summit carries a higher significance as it is a true testament to the resilience of the regional spirit, a pledge of unity and solidarity, and a crucial step forward for cooperation and collaboration. Tourism is one of the key areas that Nepal could benefit from. Prime Minister Deuba aptly underscored the need to promote Buddhism as a strong connecting thread and called for an early operationalisation of the Buddhist circuit linking Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha.