Signing and Ratification of the BIMSTEC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters
May 17, 2016
Union Cabinet has given approval for signing and ratification of the Bay of Bengal Initiative on Multi Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters
- The Ministry of Home Affairs has been designated as the Central Authority under Article 15 of the Convention.
- The establishment of regional arrangements for mutual assistance in criminal matters will greatly contribute to more effective cooperation in the control of criminal activities.
- The Convention aims to extend widest measures of assistance to each other through mutual cooperation for enhancing capability and effectiveness of the Member States in investigation and prosecution of crimes, including crimes related to terrorism, transnational organized crime, drug trafficking, money laundering and cyber-crimes.
Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) comprising Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand brings together 1.5 billion people – 21% of the world population, and a combined GDP of over US$ 2.5 trillion
Evolution of BIMSTECH
BIST-EC (Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand - Economic Cooperation) was formed at a meeting in Jun 1997 in Bangkok. Myanmar was admitted in Dec 1997 and the organization was renamed as BIMST-EC. The grouping expanded when Nepal and Bhutan were admitted in Feb 2004. The grouping’s name was changed to BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) at 1st Summit Meeting held in Bangkok in Jul 2004.
Objectives of BIMSTEC:
As stated in the Declaration of BIMSTEC, its objectives are:
i. To create an enabling environment for rapid economic development through identification and implementation of specific cooperation projects in the sectors of trade, investment and industry, technology, human recourse development, tourism, agriculture, energy, and infrastructure and transportation.
ii. To accelerate the economic growth and social progress in the sub-region through joint endeavors in a spirit of equality and partnership.
iii. To promote active collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest in the economic, social, technical and scientific fields.
iv. To provide assistance to each other in the form of training and research facilities in the educational, professional and technical spheres.
v. To cooperate more effectively in joint efforts that are supportive of and complementary to national development plans of Member States which result in tangible benefits to the people in raising their living standards, including generating employment and improving transportation and communication infrastructure.
vi. To maintain close and beneficial cooperation with existing international and regional organizations with similar aims and purposes.
vii. To cooperate in projects that can be dealt with most productively on a sub-regional basis and make best use of available synergies among BIMSTEC member countries.
The founding principles of BIMSTEC are as follows:
i. Cooperation within BIMSTEC will be based on respect for the principle of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, no-interference in internal affairs, peaceful co- existence and mutual benefit.
ii. Cooperation within BIMSTEC will constitute an addition to and not be a substitute for bilateral, regional or multilateral cooperation involving the Member States.
Area of Cooperation
BIMSTEC has been steadily expanding its agenda. The grouping has identified 14 priority areas :transport and communication, tourism, environment and disaster management, Climate change, Fisheries, Agriculture, Public Health, Poverty Alleviation, Culture and counterterrorism and transnational crime etc.
- The BIMSTEC region offers a market of 1.6 billion people, about a fifth of the global population. In 2013, intra-BIMSTEC trade was US$ 74.63 billion, up from US$ 25.16 billion in 2005. If the BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement is put in place, trade within BIMSTEC could go up by US$ 43 to 59 billion. But to realize this goal, the woefully inadequate transport and infrastructural facilities in the member countries will have to be enhanced significantly.
- Alternative to SAARC: SAARC has many functioning programs and a fully functioning Secretariat t. But it has not realized even a fraction of its potential because of intra-SAARC political conflicts (mainly between India and Pakistan); fears among the smaller states about losing their economic and political sovereignty to the regional “hegemon”, namely, India; and India’s fears of being hemmed in by a group of hostile neighbours plotting its destruction. But this is not the case with this grouping
- The absence of Pakistan in BIMSTEC (because it is not a Bay of Bengal littoral state), is a significant factor in generating hopes about the organization’s success. Unlike SAARC, BIMSTEC is not hostage to any perennial conflict such as the Indo-Pak one.
- Symbiotic Relationship: BIMSTEC stemmed from India’s Look East policy and Thailand’s Look West policy and through this India can be part of East Asia’s growing economy and also Thailand could gain free access to the growing Indian market.
Development so far
- The share of India’s trade with BIMSTEC remains much below its potential for reasons such as poor connectivity and hurdles in trade facilitation leading to high trade costs, weak supply capabilities especially in least developed countries such as Myanmar, Nepal and Bangladesh.
- The framework agreement on the BIMSTEC FTA was signed in 2004, but it is not yet fully operational. A number of issues such as modalities of tariff reduction and elimination, size of the negative list, criteria for rules of origin, mechanism of dispute settlement, safeguard measures, customs operations and negotiations on the agreements on service and investment are yet to be finalized. he member countries established an institutional arrangement in TNC in 2004 for conducting negotiations to finalize these issues, as stipulated in the framework agreement. However, even after 19 rounds of negotiations stretching over 10 years, the members have not been able to reach a consensus over issues such as market access or a dispute settlement mechanism. This is in contrast to the FTA between Asean and India, which was proposed in 2003 and came into effect in 2010.
- Cooperation in agriculture has been slow though it ought to be easy. And trade facilitation in terms of FTAs and removal of Non-Tariff Barriers is yet to show progress.
Drawback of BIMSTECH
- “BIMSTEC acts only as a pressure group to make member state prioritize projects and urge their early implementation. It is not a funding agency nor is it an implanting agency. Therefore its influence over implementation of projects is limited
- Though real integration will come only through trade links, economic and nationalistic considerations still prevent trade relations from blossoming. BIMSTEC’s job is to get member states to address these sensitive issues
- A difficult Proposition:Uneven economy is restricting the growth of BIMSTEC. There are least developed countries (LDCs) with relatively developed economies like Thailand or India and they have an obvious difference of interest, which could not be ironed out over years
- Absence of China in BIMSTEC.: On one hand China was never considered for this sub-regional grouping and on the other hand Beijing may not be interested to enter such an under-influential sub-group. However, if the biggest Asian economy is absent, this grouping is bound to slow down
- BIMSTEC, unlike SAARC, or other such sub-regional groups, is not on the top priority of the countries. There is a lack of will to engage with India’s North Eastern States to connect with the South East Asian countries…so it is unlikely for the BIMSTEC to move forward. Recent setting up of the BIMSTEC Secretariat in Dhaka, however, is a “positive development”
- Now when government is willing to redefine its engagements with its East Asian neighbours with the Act East slogan, and trade negotiations under the SAARC grouping languishing because of differences between India and Pakistan, BIMSTEC could drive regional integration in South Asia as five out of eight members of Saarc are part of BIMSTEC
- BIMSTEC as a bridge between the Saarc and Asean regions.
- India’s exports to the other six BIMSTEC countries jumped 16.6% in 2014-15 to $22.3 billion, while its imports from the same countries rose 8% to $9.3 billion during the year. And this is bound to increase
Importance of BIMSTECH for India
⇒ For New Delhi, the BIMSTEC is an integral part of its ongoing efforts to map out new pathways of geo-economic cooperation among countries in the region, which it sees as part of its extended neighbourhood. Apart from the overarching vision of regional connectivity, what animates India’s proactive role in BIMSTEC is the larger national goal of transforming north-eastern states by opening up fresh avenues of win-win opportunities. In fact, BIMSTEC, could be a potential game-changer for the north-eastern India’s quest for prosperity. The states of India’s northeast have shown a marked economic vibrancy, with the region clocking economic growth of 10% a year, which is faster than the country’s average of about 5% a year.
⇒ Myanmar is crucial to India’s economic engagement with Southeast Asian countries. The country shares a 1643 kilometre border with the Northeastern states of Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh.
- The integration of the Northeast with the fast-developing economies of ASEAN is fundamental to peace, security and development within the region. According to reports, BIMSTEC has the potential of producing trade worth USD 43-50 billion under a proposed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that the grouping is in the process of finalising.
- India’s Look East Policy (LEP) “encouraged a renewal of linkages with our civilisational neighbours in Southeast and East Asia”. The Northeast is pivotal to this vision as it shares international borders with five neighbouring countries and is home to 200 ethnic groups, languages and dialects. People of some of the bordering states – Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram – have close familial and community links with those across international borders, especially in Myanmar. Despite its economic focus, BIMSTEC is also aimed at, and will inevitably result in, the integration of people of different socio-cultural and politico-economic backgrounds throughout the region via greater people-to-people contact among citizens of all member states.