BIMSTEC Secretary General calls upon member countries to set up collective response protocols and mechanisms for future pandemics

New Delhi : Addressing the webinar on 25 Years of BIMSTEC: Opportunities and Challenges in the post-COVID 19 Era, H. E. Tenzin Lekphell, Secretary General, BIMSTEC, stated that COVID 19 has highlighted the need for collective response protocols and mechanisms amongst the member countries to prepare for future pandemics. He further noted that the Ukraine crisis has exacerbated economic problems in the BIMSTEC and the members should prioritise the early conclusion of the free trade agreement, successful implementation of projects identified in the transport connectivity master plan and the setting up of a BIMSTEC development fund. Mr Lekphell also emphasized the importance of cooperation in trade facilitation among the member countries noting that measures such as single window in customs and paperless trade will help to reduce trade costs and enhance cross-border business and in this context hoped that the agreements under negotiation such as the BIMSTEC Costal Shipping Agreement and the BIMSTEC Motor Vehicle Agreement would be expedited.


Speaking at the webinar Rudrendra Tandon, Additional Secretary (BIMSTEC & SAARC), Ministry of External Affairs, GoI, stated that the immense challenges in realizing the untapped potential of intra-BIMSTEC trade and investment should not be underestimated. He suggested that a “modest and more practical approach” such as trade facilitation cooperation and transport connectivity would be more beneficial.


The webinar was organized by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) in collaboration with the NITI Aayog and the India office of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS). As BIMSTEC marks its 25th anniversary in 2022, the webinar is part of a policy-oriented dialogue series initiated by ICRIER to assess the achievements, identify areas where it has under-performed and consider the way forward with a focus on three interconnected themes – trade and investment, transport connectivity and trade facilitation and energy cooperation.


The other prominent speakers at the webinar included Badri Narayanan Gopalakrishnan, Head, Trade, Commerce and Strategic Economic Dialogue, NITI Aayog, Posh Raj Pandey, Chairman, SAWTEE, Nepal, Fahmida Khatun, Executive Director, Centre for Policy Dialogue, Bangladesh, Anushka Wijesinha, Economist and Co-founder, Centre for a Smart Future, Sri Lanka and Piti Srisangnam, Director of Academic Affairs, ASEAN Studies Center, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand.


There was general consensus amongst the panelists that the BIMSTEC FTA should be a priority amongst the member countries in the current geopolitical situation and that painful domestic adjustments must be undertaken for greater good. The members must engage more with each other and focus on comprehensive economic partnership with a special focus on strengthening MSME cooperation as well as crossover collaborations between the trade & investment agenda and the technology and investment agenda. It was also suggested that the current crisis in Sri Lanka shows that it’s time for BIMSTEC countries to set up macroeconomic surveillance and currency swap mechanisms.