Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday urged the BIMSTEC leaders to join hands together as the forum is an appropriate tool that can leverage mutual benefits of member countries addressing post COVID-19 challenges and impacts of political crisis in the West.
“The Summit gives us an opportunity to expedite our collective efforts and find out common solutions to multiple challenges,” she said, reports UNB.
The premier said this while addressing the 5th BIMSTEC Summit taking place in Sri Lankan capital Colombo, joining virtually from her official residence Ganabhaban.
On the eve of the 25th Anniversary of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Forum, Sheikh Hasina also laid emphasis on finding common strategies to rebuild a sustainable and resilient Bay of Bengal Region by tapping the full potentials of the region.
Mentioning that the 7-nation BIMSTEC is collectively a big entity with hosting over 1.54 billion people that is more than one-fifth of world population, she observed, “This huge population is a not only a challenge but also an opportunity.”
She also placed three-point proposals at the summit, urging all leaders to pledge making the process fully functional by activating all 14 sectors of cooperation.
In the first point, Bangladesh prime minister opted for immediate implementation and operationalization of all agreed decisions like BIMSTEC FTA, BIMSTEC Centers and entities like Disaster Management Center, Energy Center, Cultural Commission etc., connectivity projects, energy grid connectivity with a view to bringing immediate tangible benefits for peoples.
Secondly, she stood for completion of the process of all other legal instruments and policy documents that are already underway but not yet finalized by pushing the organization’s momentum on a fast track.
Finally, she suggested for empowering the organization to engage in creative and innovative process by expanding its partnership and outreach with relevant entities outside of BIMSTEC with a view to addressing emerging threats and seizing new opportunities.
Sri Lanka is hosting the 5th BIMSTEC Summit in hybrid mode with the theme “BIMSTEC-Towards a Resilient Region, Prosperous Economies and Healthy Peoples.”
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is charing it.
Underlining Bangladesh as the lead country for Trade and Investment within BIMSTEC, Sheikh Hasina urged the leaders to extend support to implement BIMSTEC Framework Agreement on Free Trade Area (FTA) signed in 2004 for operation of tariff free trade among the member states.
To this end, conclusion of some essential constituent legal instruments of the FTA is required, she said, adding that some progresses have been made in finalizing the Agreement on Trade in Goods and Rules of Origin, by the relevant sectoral working group led by Bangladesh.
She said, “I seek support from the leaders to expedite the process.”
Highlighting multimodal transport connectivity is another vital component of BIMSTEC cooperation, she said that her country is committed to linking Bangladesh with the countries in the Bay of Bengal Region.
Sheikh Hasina said she is happily joining BIMSTEC leaders today to adopt the BIMSTEC Transport Connectivity Master Plan formulated by the member states with technical assistance of the Asian Development Bank.
“I strongly believe the Master Plan will facilitate regional integration in the Bay of Bengal Region,” she said.
On the other hand, she said cooperation in energy sector is a very vital component for development and survival and that is why all have to take new and collective initiatives for innovation and renewable energy.
In this context, she referred that all countries signed the agreement on power grid connection among BIMSTEC member states during the last Summit in 2018 and said, “We have to work together to make the agreement operational.”
To expedite the process, she said they may welcome proposed technical assistance programme with ADB on developing BIMSTEC master plan on power grid connectivity.
The Bangladesh premier also reiterated her commitment to maintain security and stability in the region within the framework of BIMSTEC cooperation and security mechanism.
For that Bangladesh are working and taking part in all activities and events under the BIMSTEC Convention on Counter Terrorism and Convectional Crimes (CTTC) as well as have been taking part in regular security consultations under the framework of BIMSTEC national security advisors forum, she continued.
Sheikh Hasina opined permanent secretariat and the secretary general play vital role in promoting regional cooperation through their coordination and facilitation.
“As the host country, we are committed to doing everything needed to strengthen the infrastructure,” she said.
In this connection, she mentioned that she approved the construction of a new modern iconic building at the present premises of the Secretariat for its smooth functioning and proper representation.
She also thanked the Secretary General and his team for upholding the spirit of BIMSTEC Cooperation through their relentless efforts.
The prime minister said she is happy that BIMSTEC is getting a Charter on its 25th Anniversary. Following the directions at the 4th Summit, all governments negotiated and finalized an agreed text of the proposed Charter which we are going to adopt and sign today, she also said.
She hoped that they will also witness the signing of three more mutual legal instruments.
Sheikh Hasina said Bangladesh had been committed to Regional Cooperation since its Independence and Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman first dreamt of Regional Cooperation through working with neighbours in South Asia.
She added that Bangladesh’s joining of BIMSTEC forum as a founding member in 1997 was an extension of the legacy of the Father of the Nation’s dream.
She continued, “Today, personally I feel privileged as the only founding leader present on the eve of the Silver Jubilee of our organization.”
She pointed out that the spirit of regional cooperation set by Bangladesh’s Father of the Nation is now a part of its foreign policy priorities and hosting of the BIMSTEC secretariat in Dhaka is a testimony of the country’s commitment to the organization.
The prime minister said that Bangladesh underwent a phenomenal transformation in socio-economic fronts during the last one decade while upholding democratic polity.
The rate of poverty was reduced from 41.5 percent to 20.5 percent and extreme poverty from 25.1 percent to 10.5 percent during this period, she said, adding that per capita income more than tripled to US$ 2,591 while infant mortality rate was reduced to 23.67 per 1,000; maternal mortality rate to 173 per 100 thousand live births and longevity of life rose to 73 years.
Mentioning that Bangladesh is one of the top five fastest growing economies in the world, Sheikh Hasina said even during the COVID-19 pandemic, it maintained a 6.3 percent growth last year.
Just last week, she said, Bangladesh has brought 100 percent population under electricity coverage.
Besides, the UNGA has granted Bangladesh the final approval of graduation from the status of LDCs, she added.
Heads of states, heads of governments, heads of delegations from the member states and BIMSTEC secretary general Ambassador Tenzin Lekphell were present.