December 8 is celebrated as SAARC Charter Day, but it is not a hidden fact that it has failed to achieve its objectives. Regional instruments such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral, Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) hold the key to the future.
importance of regionalism
(1)Neighbourhood First Policy: SAARC is the only intergovernmental organization that has a reach in the whole of South Asia. This could have worked in India’s interest in the entire region, but it did not.
(2) Bilateralism over regionalism: Bilateralism cannot be a substitute for regional or multilateral efforts. Regionalism has brought immense success in other parts such as East Asia and Africa.
(3) New regional economic order: Regionalism can bring prosperity to the South Asian region through a trade-development model based on incrementalism and flexibility.
What is BIMSTEC?
BIMSTEC consists of five South Asian countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka) and two ASEAN countries (Myanmar and Thailand). Unlike the SAARC charter, the BIMSTEC charter talks about ‘admission of new members to the grouping’ . It paves the way for the entry of countries.
Having a flexible scheme on the lines of ASEAN minus X i.e. reducing other countries from ASEAN may allow India-Bangladesh/Thailand (FTA) negotiations under the broader BIMSTEC umbrella scheme countries.
Room for improvement in BIMSTEC
Initiatives taken in the Free Trade Agreement will prove to be helpful in determining the better future of this region. A high-quality free trade agreement offering deeper economic integration would be an ideal step forward.
Transfer of SAARC institutions to BIMSTEC would prove to be a commendable initiative. India should find legal ways to transfer successful SAARC institutions like the South Asian University (SAU) to BIMSTEC.
( DIRECTOR – OJAANK IAS )