Prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday laid importance on expanding cooperation in BIMSTEC forum through the creation of free trade area, investment and energy collaboration, enhancing people-to-people contact and funding mechanism.
‘Global scenario has been changing very fast resulting in new dynamics in every sphere. We have to match the new dynamics and the current reality through three-pronged cooperation- bilaterally, regionally and multilaterally,’ she said.
‘Our cooperation in BIMSTEC forum can be expanded through creation of free trade area, investment and energy collaboration, enhancing people-to-people contact and funding mechanism,’ she said in her statement in the inaugural session of the 4th BIMSTEC Summit at Hotel Swaltee Crowne Plaza here on Thursday.
The summit is being held with the theme - ‘Towards a Peaceful, Prosperous and Sustainable Bay of Bengal Region’.
Prime minister of Nepal and chairperson of the 4th BIMSTEC Summit K P Sharma Oli, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, chief adviser (head of interim government) of Bhutan Dasho Tshering Wangchuk and other BIMSTEC leaders addressed the session.
Sheikh Hasina said BIMSTEC has achieved a few modest successes during the past 21 years of its existence. ‘However, a huge task remains ahead of us,’ she added.
‘We need to consolidate fundamental legal frameworks to carry forward the substantive engagements in our cooperation to produce visible results,’ she said.
Sheikh Hasina said the Special BIMSTEC Retreat in Goa, in 2016, hosted by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, was an important step forward. Some of the decisions of the 16-point agenda of action adopted in Goa have been executed while many are yet to be realised.
Sheikh Hasina expressed pleasure for bilateral arrangement of electricity grid connection among some BIMSTEC countries, saying that with the participation of others, this can be turned into a BIMSTEC electricity grid.
To achieve an early dividend from the BIMSTEC, Sheikh Hasina proposed categorizing 14 sectors into several clusters to make them more synergized, focused and implementable. ‘Trade, investment, connectivity, science and technology, energy, poverty alleviation and agriculture sectors that directly add economic and social benefits for the people may be categorised under one cluster called ‘Sustainable Development’, she said.
‘Security, counter-terrorism, climate change and disaster management that protect and promote our prosperity may be placed under another cluster called ‘Security and Stability’.
Culture and public health that facilitate and influence progress and prosperity may be placed under the 3rd cluster called ‘People to People Contact’, she said.
In the same light, she suggested reviewing the scope and structure of BIMSTEC in view of the evolving political and economic scenario.
Sheikh Hasina thanked the government of Nepal for their support in carrying forward the BIMSTEC during the last four and a half years.
The premier said Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman first dreamt of regional economic and social progress in South Asia. Since then, regional cooperation has been an integral component of Bangladesh’s foreign policy.
Terming BIMSTEC a potentially dynamic region in the world, the prime minister said Bangladesh attaches high importance to regional cooperation through BIMSTEC.
Hosting of the BIMSTEC secretariat in Dhaka is a manifestation of the full commitment of Bangladesh to the BIMSTEC forum, she said.
Sheikh Hasina said with 1.5 billion people comprising almost 22 per cent of global population, the BIMSTEC has a huge scope of expansion of intra-trade.
‘We have to utilise the potentials that much of which remain still untapped,’ she said.
Pointing out the significant economic and social progress of Bangladesh over the last 10 years, the prime minister said the UN secretary general, during his recent visit to Bangladesh, termed Bangladesh as an economic miracle.
Sheikh Hasina said earlier this year, Bangladesh qualified to graduate from the LDCs while the per capita GDP reached USD 1,752 this fiscal year from USD 543 in 2006.
She said poverty rate in Bangladesh has dropped to 21 per cent in 2018 from 41.5 per cent in 2006. The World Bank ranks Bangladesh as the 43rd largest economy in the world in terms of GDP and the 32nd in terms of purchasing power parity.
Price Waterhouse Coopers also projected Bangladesh as the 23rd largest economy by 2050. Bangladesh is committed to pursuing all means of domestic, bilateral, regional and international cooperation in transforming it to a middle income country by the year 2021 and a developed one by the year 2041, the prime minister said.
Sheikh Hasina said development is dependent on peace and stability. So, Bangladesh has been pursuing a policy of inclusive development with the conviction to address hunger and poverty, illiteracy and inequality to build a stable, just and a sustainable society.