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Does BIMSTEC as multilateral organization has any future

"Multilateralism" is the primary tool INDIA is using to facilitate and improve its international relations. One of the cornerstones of India's strategy is to develop economically and technologically. It will be possible by maintaining good relations with neighbouring countries specifically with North-East and south-East Asian countries. This measure leads to the formation of BIMSTEC.

The evolution of BIMSTEC took place when Bangladesh, India, Srilanka, Thailand economic cooperation (BIST-EC) was formed in June 1997. It was renamed as BIMSTEC when Myanmar joined it in December 1997.Later Nepal and Bhutan joined them in 2004.The name of grouping was changed to Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic cooperation during first summit held in 2004. It brings together 21% of world's population and combined GDP of over $2.5 trillion.

Rising Importance:

In spite of its Regional connectivity it was not able to draw much attention from India because of not much developed countries as its members. While BIMSTEC has made significant progress in integrating with the global economy, integration within the region has remained limited. The BIMSTEC countries have maintained a higher level of protection within the region than with the rest of the world. There is little of cross-border investment and connectivity within the region. The flow of ideas, normally measured by the cross-border movement of services, is all low for BIMSTEC.

But in recent days integrity between member countries developed and attracted attention dominating SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) which is suffering from lack of integrity between India and Pakistan. India inviting BIMSTEC countries to recent 8th BRICS summit 2016 which held in Goa mirrors that it stands as a viable option for India to accelerate its economic growth. The most driving force should be it's Free Trade Agreement (FTA).The main objective of this agreement is to strengthen and enhance economic, trade and investment cooperation and to bridge the development gap between its member countries.

In terms of connectivity, BIMSTEC has three major projects that, when finished, could transform the movement of goods and vehicles through the countries in the grouping.

One is the Kaladan Multimodal project that seeks to link India and Myanmar. The project envisages connecting Kolkata to Sittwe port in Myanmar, and then Mizoram by river and road. India and Myanmar had signed a framework agreement in 2008 for the implementation of this project. It's yet to be finished.

Another is the Asian Trilateral Highway connecting India and Thailand through Myanmar. The highway will run from Moreh in Manipur to Mae Sot in Thailand via Myanmar and represents a significant step in establishing connectivity between India and Southeast Asian countries.

Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) have signed a pact for the movement of goods and vehicles among them. The pact, which was signed last year, is awaiting internal clearances of some members. Trial runs of trucks between Bangladesh and India have begun. Unless some of the basic facilities are developed, the connectivity among the BIMSTEC members will remain at a low level and the full potential of intra-regional trading will remain underutilized.

A stronger BIMSTEC means a more stable and flourishing Asia.

- P.Likhitha

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