SINGAPORE: The implementation of Free Trade Agreement can help the intra-BIMSTEC trade grow up to USD 240 billion from the current estimated USD 40 billion, said a senior official of the seven-member bloc that includes India.
The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation(BIMSTEC) is a regional economic bloc comprising seven member states lying in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal constituting a contiguous regional unity.
The group formed in 1997 consists of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand.
"That is the potential and it would be much easier to go to that potential," M Shahidul Islam, Secretary-General of BIMSTEC said, citing a think tank's report that intra-BIMSTEC trade can grow up to USD 240 billion from the current estimated USD 40 billion.
He said that India has given its opinion on the revised FTA whose draft was ready in 2015 but has been revisited on call from some member countries.
Islam said that there were plans that the agreements would be signed next year.
"We will be very happy if we can finalise the goods and trade as well as the supporting agreements on customs cooperation next year," Islam said, while delivering key note address at a workshop titled BIMSTEC at 20: Priorities and Prospects.
He said that the BIMSTEC connectivity master plan will be finalised this year.
"Once it (connectivity plan) is approved by the member states, we hope to have a formal launch, most probably, in New Delhi as India is the lead country for connectivity," said Islam, adding that the Delhi launch of the connectivity master plan will also give a visibility to the world.
The Secretary-General also said that the automatic linking of the BIMSTEC connectivity plan with that of the ASEAN Connectivity Plan 2025 would expand reach of BIMSTEC members across the South East Asian region.
The day-long workshop was organised by the Institute of South Asian Studies, a think tank of the National University of Singapore, as well as Consortium of South Asian Think Tanks and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.