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New Delhi backs regional road link to spur economic growth

LiveMint logoLiveMint 11-08-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: With a South Asian road and rail connectivity project scuttled by Pakistan and another effort by New Delhi to link Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and India by road running into roadblocks, India on Friday sought to push connectivity between South and South-East Asia to spur economic growth and development.

India’s plans were outlined by foreign minister Sushma Swaraj at a meeting of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, better known by its acronym BIMSTEC. The one-day meet is being hosted by Kathmandu.

In her speech Swaraj said “enhanced connectivity is vital to achieving our common goals of growth, employment and prosperity.”

“To achieve smoother cross-border flows of trade and people, we need to put in place the enabling soft infrastructure such as the Framework Agreement on Transit, Trans-shipment and Movement of Vehicular Traffic; and the Agreement on Coastal Shipping, at the earliest,” she urged.

BIMSTEC comprises Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand, and brings together 1.5 billion people or 21% of the world population and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of over $2.5 trillion.

With Pakistan effectively scuttling two pacts for regional connectivity—one road and the other rail—at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit in Kathmandu in 2014, India pitched for a subregional motor vehicles pact with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. A pact among the BBIN countries—as it was called—was signed in June 2015 in the Bhutanese capital Thimphu.

India has been a strong votary of the BBIN connectivity project mainly to show that South Asian countries are in favour of regional connectivity and that it is Pakistan that has been playing the spoiler in the physical integration of SAARC.

But with Bhutan unable to get the necessary parliamentary ratification to implement the Motor Vehicles Agreement that would see the movement of trucks among the four BBIN countries, New Delhi has been looking at plans to implement the pact with just Nepal and Bangladesh—including redrawing the routes for vehicular movement.

India has also been pushing BIMSTEC as an alternative to SAARC—with invitations to leaders from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand for an outreach session with leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa in October in Goa.

In her statement at the BIMSTEC meeting in Kathmandu, Swaraj also called for the speedy conclusion of the BIMSTEC free trade agreement, BIMSTEC Trade Facilitation Agreement and the BIMSTEC Agreement on Mutual Assistance on Customs Matters that would speed up the growth of trade among the members of the group.

She also called for measures to boost intra-regional tourism that would allow tourists to experience shared civilizational heritage.

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