Statement by Hon Vasantha Senanayake, MP, State Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka at the 16th BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting, 29 August 2018, Kathmandu
Your Excellency, Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, Foreign Minister of Nepal & Chair of the BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting
At the outset, I wish to express my sincere appreciation to the Foreign Minister and the Government of Nepal for the warm welcome and gracious hospitality extended to me and my delegation since our arrival in the Himalayan city of Kathmandu. I also wish to congratulate our host nation on the excellent arrangements made to ensure that this Ministerial Meeting and Summit is a resounding success.
Permit me, to felicitate you Mr Chairman for efficiently guiding BIMSTEC since assuming the Chair. I am confident, that under your able guidance we will have a fruitful meeting. I also wish to appreciate the work of the Senior Officials for drafting an ambitious declaration, which Sri Lanka, as the next Chair looks forward to operationalise.
I am pleased to acknowledge that BIMSTEC has made significant strides in increasing cooperation among nations in the Bay of Bengal region. The key characteristic of our Organization has been the existing together of the ‘Look West’ policy of the ASEAN nations and the ‘Look East’ policy of their South Asian counterparts, thereby bridging two of the most dynamic regions in the world. I see a considerable number of complementarities in our economies and numerous opportunities for cooperation.
We are gathered here today, since we as a group recognize the potential of such cooperation. Our collective efforts and continuing engagement clearly demonstrate the commitment towards achieving the common goals that we adopted in the 1997 Bangkok declaration.
Despite achieving economic growth, poverty and growing inequality continue to plague our region, hence reinforcing the need to intensify our efforts to address the needs of our people in a sustainable manner. Currently, BIMSTEC member states account for 21% of the world’s population, have a collective GDP of USD 2.85 trillion and an average economic growth rate of 6.5%. We in this region are blessed with oceans as well as mountainous ecosystems which are yet to be fully utilised for improving livelihoods and economic growth. It is our responsibility to outline sustainable utilisation of our resources to ensure benefits for future generations.
BIMSTEC also has the potential to be an influential trading bloc, given its vast natural and human resources. In order to fulfil its economic potential, we should endeavour to finalise the proposed BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Sri Lanka remains fully committed to this process of the Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC)
As the lead country in the technology sector since the inception of BIMSTEC, I welcome the efforts to finalise the MOA on the BIMSTEC Technology Transfer Facility to be set up in Colombo. This would facilitate technology collaborations and partnerships to benefit small and medium enterprises.
As we look towards the next decade of BIMSTEC it is important to assess our progress in the identified pillars of cooperation. It is important to undertake a review towards rationalising these pillars of cooperation towards a more objective and results oriented BIMSTEC. As much as we recognise the importance of being a catalyst in the region, we also recognise the vast potential of BIMSTEC to provide impetus to achieving results, by accelerating progress in the core areas of cooperation. We welcome the concept paper by Thailand in this regard.
All BIMSTEC Member States have vibrant and thriving business communities. We should encourage interaction between our respective business leaders and captains of industry to galvanise some of our ideas into action. We all agree that the private sector is the engine of growth in our respective countries, increased interaction between them, sector wise and through business chambers, would provide further impetus to our economic engagement and enhance the visibility and stature of our organisation.
The Bay of Bengal region has natural gas reserves and the potential to generate hydropower. Energy generation and distribution are potentially important areas of collaboration for BIMSTEC countries.
The Indian Ocean is a large resource that requires cooperation among BIMSTEC states; BIMSTEC should promote maritime safety and security, create links with organisations like the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) for complementary action, and promote the Blue Economy. There are both traditional and non-traditional security threats in the Bay of Bengal.
BIMSTEC should work to establish a rules-based system, guaranteeing freedom of navigation for maritime commerce and addressing maritime security threats by non-state actors, such as pirates and illegal fisherman.
The Tourism sector makes a remarkable contribution to the economies of our region. This industry provides vast direct and indirect employment opportunities for our people. Sri Lanka is please to have made considerable progress in this sector in the past years and looks forward to promoting Buddhist circuit tourism together with BIMSTEC Member States.
Sri Lanka looks forward to assuming the Chairmanship of BIMSTEC at the conclusion of the 4th Summit and seeks your fullest cooperation to achieve the ambitious goals we have set for ourselves in the coming years.