Why in the News?


Recently, The BIMSTEC Charter came into force, which was adopted by BIMSTEC leaders at the 5th summit held on 22 May 2022 in Columbo. Implementing the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) charter marks a pivotal development, enabling the organization to welcome new members and observers. 


Significance of Charter


  • The charter confers legal status on BIMSTEC, allowing it to enter into agreements with countries as well as sub-regional, regional, and international organizations and institutions.
  • This legal framework strengthens the organization’s ability to promote deeper integration, meaningful cooperation, and shared prosperity among member states. 
  • Furthermore, the Charter embodies its members’ collective history, culture, vision, and mutual respect, supporting India’s Neighbourhood First and Act East policies. 
  • The implementation of the BIMSTEC Charter marks a significant step toward enhancing regional cooperation, economic integration, and peace and stability in the Bay of Bengal region. It highlights the member states’ dedication to achieving common goals and mutual prosperity.

Key Components of the Charter


Trade, Investment and Development:

  • Sub-sector: Blue Economy

Environment and Climate Change:

  • Sub-sector: Mountain Economy


  • Sub-sectors: Counter-Terrorism and Transnational Crime, Disaster Management, Energy

Agriculture and Food Security:

  • Sub-sectors: Agriculture, Fisheries & Livestock

People-to-People Contact:

  • Sub-sectors: Culture, Tourism, Poverty Alleviation, People-to-People Contact 

Science, Technology, and Innovation:

  • Sub-sectors: Technology, Health, Human Resource Development





  • BIMSTEC, or the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation, is a regional multilateral organization comprising seven countries in the Bay of Bengal region.
  • Member countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. 
  • Established in 1997 through the Bangkok Declaration, the organization initially used the acronym BIST-EC (Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand Economic Cooperation). It was renamed BIMST-EC in 1997 following the inclusion of Myanmar, and eventually became BIMSTEC in 2004 when Nepal and Bhutan joined.


Potential Benefits of New Members Joining the BIMSTEC


  • Enhanced Regional Representation: Adding new members can broaden BIMSTEC’s geographic scope, enabling it to represent more countries in the Bay of Bengal region. This expansion can increase the organization’s legitimacy and influence in both regional and global forums.
  • Increased Economic Potential: The inclusion of new members can introduce additional economic resources, markets, and investment opportunities, potentially driving regional economic growth and development. With a current combined GDP of $3.6 trillion, BIMSTEC is already an economic force, and new members could further boost its economic power.
  • Diversified Expertise and Resources: New members can offer their unique expertise, resources, and experiences, enhancing BIMSTEC’s ability to tackle regional challenges and opportunities. This diversity can lead to more effective and sustainable cooperation in various sectors such as security, connectivity, trade, agriculture, environment, science and technology, and cultural exchanges.
  • Strengthened Regional Integration: The inclusion of new members can promote deeper regional integration by increasing economic interdependence, cultural exchanges, and people-to-people connections among member states. This can create a more cohesive and stable region that is better equipped to address shared challenges and opportunities.
  • Enhanced Global Influence: A stronger and more diverse BIMSTEC can present a united and influential presence in global forums, allowing the organization to more effectively advocate for the interests of its member states and shape the global agenda.
  • Increased Opportunities for Cooperation: The entry of new members can introduce fresh perspectives and ideas, leading to new areas of cooperation and collaboration. This can help BIMSTEC remain relevant and dynamic, effectively responding to emerging challenges and opportunities in the region.
  • Support to Least Developed and Land-Locked Countries: By admitting new members, especially the least developed and land-locked countries, BIMSTEC can provide them with access to technical assistance, capacity building, and economic opportunities, aiding their development and promoting greater regional equity.


Why has India Shifted its focus from SAARC to BIMSTEC?


  • Indo-Pak rivalry: SAARC has been hampered by the ongoing India-Pakistan rivalry, with Pakistan frequently blocking key initiatives. In contrast, BIMSTEC, which excludes Pakistan, offers a more favourable platform for regional collaboration.
  • Alignment with India’s foreign policy: BIMSTEC supports India’s “Neighborhood First” and “Act East” policies, facilitating engagement with countries in the Bay of Bengal region and fostering connections with ASEAN. This maritime focus complements India’s continental strategy in South Asia.
  • Geographical advantages: BIMSTEC provides India with opportunities to utilize its geographical advantage to promote connectivity projects in the northeastern states and with Myanmar and Thailand, potentially unlocking the region’s economic potential.
  • Sidelining Bilateral rivalry: India has also used BIMSTEC to sideline Pakistan diplomatically, such as by boycotting the 2016 SAARC summit in Islamabad and inviting BIMSTEC leaders to Prime Minister Modi’s 2019 swearing-in ceremony, avoiding the need to invite Pakistan.
  • Sector specific cooperation: BIMSTEC’s agenda is more focused on specific sectors like trade, investment, connectivity, security, and cultural exchanges, compared to SAARC’s broader scope, leading to more tangible results.
  • Cordial and peaceful relations: BIMSTEC member states generally maintain cordial relationships, unlike the often tense dynamics within SAARC, creating a more conducive environment for cooperation.


Challenges For BIMSTEC as an organization


  • Leadership deficit and lack of commitment: There are concerns about the lack of enthusiastic engagement from key stakeholders such as India, Thailand, and Myanmar in advancing BIMSTEC initiatives. It is speculated that these countries may prefer to strengthen their ties with ASEAN rather than commit fully to BIMSTEC’s development.
  • Weak Institutions: BIMSTEC has struggled with a lack of a proper Charter and vision documents, resulting in considerable flexibility in its processes. The establishment of a Permanent Secretariat took 17 years, highlighting institutional weaknesses that impede effective cooperation and integration.
  • Limited Progress and Inactivity: BIMSTEC has been criticized for its slow progress and inactivity, which has been marked by significant delays between summits and a lack of regular high-level meetings. This sluggish pace has limited the organization’s ability to achieve tangible outcomes and effectively promote economic integration. There are only 5 High level summits in the last 25 years.
  • Divergent National Priorities: The varying economic needs and priorities of BIMSTEC member states present challenges in aligning their interests toward greater economic interdependence. Differences in national policies, such as India’s ban on Chinese apps, can create obstacles in cybersecurity cooperation and regional economic integration.
  • Security Concerns: Differing security concerns and apparatuses among member states pose challenges to developing a unified security framework within BIMSTEC. Without a shared vision of a stable global order and common security norms, progress in economic integration and other sectors may be slow and incremental.
  • Limited Funding: BIMSTEC operates on a modest budget of approximately US$200,000, which is a persistent concern. Adequate funding is crucial for the organization to effectively implement projects and programs and achieve its objectives of regional economic integration.


Way forward for India


  • Strengthening the BIMSTEC Secretariat: Increasing the human and financial resources for the BIMSTEC Secretariat can actively advance the organization’s objectives.
  • Focus on Connectivity and Infrastructure: Emphasizing sustained physical connectivity and high-quality infrastructure is essential to facilitate greater regional movement of goods, services, and people.
  • India’s Leadership Role: India’s leadership can enhance cooperation in sectors such as transport and communication, tourism, environmental and disaster management, and combating terrorism and transnational crime.
  • Countering China’s Influence: BIMSTEC offers India a platform to counter China’s expanding influence in the region, particularly through infrastructure initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Strengthening BIMSTEC can help balance China’s presence.


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Prelims Based Question


Q1. Consider the following statements about BIMSTEC:

  1. Nepal and Bhutan were the last to join BIMSTEC in 2004.
  2. Defence cooperation is one of the major sectors of the BIMSTEC charter.

Choose the correct answer using the codes given below:

(a). 1 Only

(b). 2 Only

(c). Both 1 and 2

(d). Neither 1 nor 2





Mains Based Question


Q1. How does the BIMSTEC Charter’s legal framework contribute to the organization’s goal of deeper regional integration and cooperation among its member states?


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