BIMSTEC nears completion of Free Trade Agreement, says secretary general, Energy News, ET EnergyWorld

BIMSTEC nears completion of Free Trade Agreement, says secretary general

Free Trade Agreement (FTA) among the BIMSTEC countries is at the final stage of formulation with trade being the core agenda when BIMSTEC was established, Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) secretary general Tenzin Lekphell said in Kolkata. BIMSTEC is also creating an energy centre in Bangalore with focus on the potential of clean energy as well.

“Trade has been the core agenda since the time of establishment of BIMSTEC. Somehow it did not really give us the fruit which was expected during this course of time. Many experts have come together in the recent past, a lot of meetings took place, negotiations have been done and multilateral discussions took place among the seven member countries. Seven countries coming to consensus and doing negotiations takes time and it is a complex process. Everyone wants the FTA to happen in the region,” Tenzin told ET.

“FTA is at the final stages of completion. We are left with a few more details which need to be negotiated. During the 19th minstrel meeting recently, I have requested the trade ministers, trade & commerce secretaries to come together and then advise the working groups. A lot of work on different constituents of FTA has been done and it is actually entering in the final stages,” Tenzin told ET in an exclusive interaction.

Talking about the BIMSTEC Energy Centre coming up in Bangalore, Lekhphell said, “This region has potential for clean energy, especially Bhutan and Nepal with huge potential of hydro-power. We have discussed the energy issue with renewed focus. A BIMSTEC Energy Centre is coming up in Bangalore and details about trading energy will come up with India as the lead country.”

Meanwhile, the BIMSTEC has also drafted the Maritime Transport Agreement which is likely to get approval in coming November from the member countries. “We know the region has a huge potential in terms of waterways as there are so many rivers in the Bay of Bengal region,”Tenzin said, adding that the Maritime Agreement cooperation has been completed. “In November this year, during the sixth BIMSTEC summit in Bankok, the Maritime Transport Agreement is likely to get the final approval from the seven member countries, after which it can be implemented,” Tenzin said.

“Covid made us realize that pandemic is an important agenda and before the pandemic we were focussing more on trade connectivity, energy but there was not much discussion on health. Now the region has realized that health is an important agenda and in future if a situation arises, the region can come together on the issue,” Lekhphell said.

The BIMSTEC conference in Kolkata on Saturday was held following the 19th BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting, which was held earlier this month in New Delhi, a year after the Fifth BIMSTEC Summit held in Colombo. On Saturday, Minister of State (MOS)-Ministry of External Affairs Rajkumar Ranajan Singh inaugurated the two-day BIMSTEC conference marking its 25th Anniversary.