At the outset, I congratulate Your Excellency Mr. Dinesh Gunawardena on your election as Chairperson of today's Meeting
Your Excellency Mr. Dinesh Gunawardena, Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka
Your Excellencies Foreign Ministers of BIMSTEC Member States
Secretary General of BIMSTEC
At the outset, I congratulate Your Excellency Mr. Dinesh Gunawardena on your election as Chairperson of today's Meeting. I express my profound gratitude to the Government of Sri Lanka, for taking the initiative of holding this meeting.
I also congratulate Mr Tenzin Lekphell for assuming charge of the Secretary General of BIMSTEC in November 2020. I appreciate the efforts put in by him and his team for smooth coordination of the meeting.
BIMSTEC enjoys the unique strength of connecting South and South-East Asia. It has steadily gained prominence in our foreign policy. Participation of BIMSTEC leaders at our Government's swearing-in ceremony in May 2019 was a testament to it.
BIMSTEC over the years has emerged as a promising sub-regional grouping with growing strategic and economic interests of the Member States, as well as of the international community in the Bay of Bengal region. Our collective resolve to impart a fresh dynamism to BIMSTEC has rejuvenated the organization. I am glad that the region is witnessing rapid economic growth with growing political and economic cooperation among the Member States.
It is a matter of satisfaction that BIMSTEC has achieved significant progress in many of the priority areas of cooperation. I am happy to note that Member States have agreed on rationalization of Sectors and Subsectors of cooperation.
I am also delighted to note that the text of the BIMSTEC Charter has been finalised. We hope that all member states will timely complete their internal procedures for its adoption at the fifth BIMSTEC summit.
India had announced several initiatives at the last BIMSTEC Summit in Kathmandu to further strengthen BIMSTEC cooperation and capacity-building in diverse areas. I am glad that many of these initiatives have already been implemented, including the BIMSTEC Startup Conclave, the BIMSTEC Military Exercise, the BIMSTEC Ministerial Conclave at the India Mobile Congress 2018, the 2nd BIMSTEC Disaster Management Exercise, BIMSTEC Seminar on Climate Smart Farming Systems, training of BIMSTEC Diplomats at the Foreign Service Institute, etc. Action is being taken on organizing Tri-Services HADR Exercise, BIMSTEC Youth Water Sports and other initiatives.
Robust connectivity is an essential pre-requisite for economic integration of the region with smooth cross-border movement of people and goods. I am delighted that the Member States have finalized the BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity which is expected to be adopted at the fifth BIMSTEC Summit. It would be an important step towards fulfilling the aspirations of the people of our region for better connectivity and integration.
We also need to put in place legal framework for smooth connectivity in the region by finalizing the BIMSTEC Coastal Shipping Agreement and the Motor Vehicles Agreement at an early date.
Development and prosperity go hand in hand with peace and security. We face both traditional and non-traditional security challenges. Cooperation in the security sector therefore has a special significance for us. Our NSAs have met thrice since 2017. They have been working closely and have moved forward in several aspects of security cooperation including counter terrorism, intelligence sharing, coastal security, cyber security, etc in a tangible manner.
I am glad to note that the BIMSTEC Convention on Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism, Transnational Organized Crime and illicit Drug Trafficking has come into force last month and BIMSTEC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters has been finalized for signing at the fifth BIMSTEC Summit. These Conventions will provide a robust legal basis to further strengthen our cooperation in this sector.
Disaster management is another important area of collaboration among the BIMSTEC countries having similar geo-climatic conditions. I am happy to inform that the BIMSTEC Centre for Weather and Climate, being hosted in India, is fully functional with the state of the art facilities to provide Disaster Early Warnings.
Our collaboration in intra-regional tourism has been badly hit naturally by the COVID pandemic. As the situation normalizes, we should lay strong emphasis on promoting the BIMSTEC Brand of Tourism and develop modalities for utilization of BIMSTEC Tourism Fund. Subject to normalization of the situation, we plan to invite BIMSTEC countries as Guest of Honour Partners at the 'International Buddhist Conclave' later this year.
BIMSTEC has evolved through a long journey. Next year will be the silver jubilee of the establishment of the BIMSTEC. It is high time that we dwell upon how to make a paradigm-shift in raising the level of our cooperation and regional integration.
I am glad to learn that Sri Lanka plans to hold the fifth BIMSTEC Summit soon, which shall take important decisions to make the organization more focused and also more result-oriented. Decisions on finalization of the template of MoA on Establishment of BIMSTEC Centres / Entities, the Organogram of the Secretariat and Procurement Procedures of the Secretariat are important steps in that direction.
I am also glad to note that the MoU for Cooperation among Diplomatic Academies and Training Institutions of BIMSTEC Member States and MoA for Establishment of Technology Transfer Facility in Colombo have been finalized for signing at the next Summit.
India remains committed to further building the momentum of regional cooperation under the BIMSTEC framework and make the organization stronger, vibrant, more effective and result-oriented. I am confident that BIMSTEC would scale new heights in the times to come with our collective efforts and spirit of cooperation.
I look forward to fruitful and productive discussions at the meeting.
I thank you dear colleagues for your attention.