President Maithripala Sirisena, attended the BRICS Outreach Summit held in Goa, India recently following an invitation extended by the neighbouring nation. The seven leaders of BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) participated at the joint summit with the BRICS leaders for regional outreach. BIMSTEC comprises seven countries namely Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan.
The main objective of the BIMSTEC meet is technological and economic cooperation among South Asian and South East Asian countries lying in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal. Commerce, investment, technology, tourism, human resource development, agriculture, fisheries, transport and communication, textiles, leather, etc, were the other key sectors touched upon.
Leaders of the eighth Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) summit chaired by India, held a bilateral meeting with BIMSTEC countries on day two of the Summit on Sunday (16).
Addressing the Outreach Summit, President Sirisena reiterated the commitment of the government to establish a BIMSTEC Center for Technology Transfer Facility to contribute to the collective drive for economic advancement.
“To take Sri Lanka to the next stage of development, the vision of my government is to create a knowledge-based competitive social market economy which is integrated with the world”, he said.
Noting that Sri Lanka seeks to avail of trade and economic opportunities in a mutually-beneficial manner, he said the island’s vision, apart from strengthening BIMSTEC, is of providing the nexus between SAARC and ASEAN which needs to be further explored.
President Sirisena also emphasised that the 20th Anniversary of BIMSTEC in 2017 provides an opportunity to effect the much needed transformation of the organization, to help it realize the full potential of regional cooperation and called for the early finalisation of the BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement.
On the other hand, President Sirisena also highlighted that despite BIMSTEC’s inception in 1997, where BIMSTEC meetings have resulted in adoption of several declarations focusing on achieving prosperity in the region, the full potential of regional cooperation however remains yet to be realized.
“We need to change course now to fulfill the expectations of our people to deliver a strong growth dividend through economic and technical cooperation,” he elaborated.
The Sri Lankan President therefore noted that diversification and modernization of economies, infrastructure development, knowledge exchange, increased access to technology, enhanced capacity building, expansion of trade and investment can no longer be held back.
“We need to regain, through meaningful and outcome-oriented collaboration, the legitimacy that underpins any serious regional framework. My government’s approach to regional cooperation and inter-regional collaboration is based upon friendship with all and enmity towards none. In the inter-dependent world that we see today no country or people can seek to prosper in isolation. In the same vein, none can be cast away as unimportant or irrelevant given that challenges are of a cross-cutting nature,” President Sirisena added.
Apart from President Sirisena, representatives of the BIMSTEC states in attendance were Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, Bhutanese Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay, Myanmar’s State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nepalese Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Thailand’s Vice-Minister, Virasakdi Futrakul.
President Sirisena was accompanied by the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Harsha de Silva, High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in India, Chitranganee Wagiswara, Director General for South Asia of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Asoka Girihagama and Consul General of Sri Lanka in Mumbai, Saroja Sirisena.
At the BRICS-BIMSTEC outreach summit, the BIMSTEC leaders identified 14 sectors in which to deepen their cooperation, including in areas of blue economy and counter-terrorism. In an Outcome Document released on Monday, the grouping said BIMSTEC members have agreed to advance multi-modal physical connectivity (air, rail, roads and waterways) in the BIMSTEC region. The member states agreed to explore the possibility of a BIMSTEC Motor Vehicles Agreement. They also decided to cooperate on disaster management issues and in the agriculture sector.
As the Bay of Bengal region is home to some 30 per cent of the world’s fishermen, the member states said they would strive for sustainable development of fisheries in the region. The member states will also work to harness the “enormous potential that the development of the blue economy holds” for the region, with deepening cooperation in aquaculture, hydrography, seabed mineral exploration, coastal shipping, eco-tourism, and renewable ocean energy.
They also asked officials to expedite signing an agreement on grid interconnection, operationalise the BIMSTEC Energy Centre and promote regional energy trade. Negotiations will also be accelerated on BIMSTEC Free Trade Area.
Meanwhile, during President Sirisena’s visit to India, the President held several bi-lateral meetings with world leaders. At a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he discussed matters of bilateral importance including Indian projects implemented in Sri Lanka. He also held a bilateral meeting with the Chinese President Xi Jing Ping.
“Both leaders renewed their commitment to enhance cooperation and commemorating the 60th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations and the 65th anniversary of the Rubber-Rice Pact in 2017. President Sirisena met Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal of Nepal, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay of Bhutan and the State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi. During discussions with these leaders, President Sirisena highlighted the importance of the shared Buddhist heritage and invited their participation at the United Nations Vesak Celebrations in Sri Lanka in May 2017,” a statement by the Consulate General of Sri Lanka in Mumbai said.
The 8th BRICS Summit hosted by India and held under the theme ‘Building Responsive, Inclusive and Collective Solutions’ was attended by the heads of state of the five member states namely Brazilian President Michel Temer, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, Chinese President, Xi Jinping, South African President, Jacob Zuma and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Singh Modi.
The fourth BIMSTEC Summit is scheduled to be held in Nepal in 2017. The full text of the BIMSTEC Leaders’ Retreat 2016 Outcome Document is available at http://mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/2750/BIMSTEC_Leaders_Retreat_2016_Outcome_Document