Kathmandu - Bimstec member states on August 11 called for the early conclusion of a free trade area (FTA) agreement to deepen regional integration in the Bay of Bengal region.
"We emphasise the need for greater cooperation in trade and investment in order to deepen regional integration in the Bay of Bengal region," a joint statement issued after the 15th Ministerial Meeting of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) here said.
"We recognise the paramount importance of early conclusion of Bimstec Free Trade Area and direct the Trade Negotiating Committee and Working Groups to expedite the finalisation of its constituent agreements," it stated.
In her speech at the Ministerial Meeting, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also said that there remained an "immense unfulfilled potential for deeper economic integration".
"Along with the work on Bimstec FTA, the Bimstec Trade Facilitation Agreement and the Bimstec Agreement on Mutual Assistance on Customs Matters would fasten trade, and must be concluded at the earliest.
Bimstec comprises seven countries lying in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal - Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
With the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) virtually rendered ineffective as a bloc, largely due to non-cooperation on the part of Pakistan in a number of areas, India has been giving more importance to Bimstec in recent times.
The bloc brings together 1.5 billion people or 21% of the world's population and has a combined GDP of over $2.85 trillion.
According to the joint statement, the member nations of the regional bloc also stressed on the need to expedite the negotiations on the Agreements on Services and Investment to augment economic cooperation in the region.
"We underscore the importance of trade facilitation in our region and urge authorities for early finalization of the Bimstec Trade Facilitation Agreement," it said.
In terms of energy cooperation, the participants expressed satisfaction that the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the Establishment of the Bimstec Grid Interconnection is ready for signature and agreed to complete the internal procedures to sign the MoU at the earliest.
"We recognise the high potentials of energy sources in the region, particularly renewable and clean energy sources and agree to expedite our efforts to develop a comprehensive plan for Energy Cooperation within the region," the statement said.
"We agree to explore the possibilities of promoting energy trade in the region."
The participating nations also emphasised on the early operationalisation of the Bimstec Energy Centre in order to strengthen energy cooperation in the region in a comprehensive manner.
According to statement, the Bimstec member states have been urged to collectively implement the common projects identified for enhancing agricultural Cooperation.
"We recognise the availability of vast plant biodiversity in the region and underscore the importance of enhancing cooperation in plant germplasm exchange and recommend to explore the possibility of concluding a framework agreement on plant germplasm exchange and material transfer, taking into account the readiness and internal procedures of each member state," it said.
Recalling the directives issued at the Bimstc Leaders' Retreat in Goa last year to explore ways to deepen cooperation in areas of blue economy with the objective of holistic sustainable development of our region, the participants in the Ministerial Meeting agreed to constitute a working group to determine the modalities in this regard.
While Bangladesh will host an international conference on blue economy in October, Nepal will host an expert level meeting on mountain economy.
In terms of poverty alleviation, the member states reaffirmed their commitment to effectively implement the Bimstec Poverty Plan of Action in line with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.