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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : BIMSTEC as key to a new South Asian regional order


Source: The Hindu

  • Prelims: Current events of international importance(BIMSTEC, Bay of Bengal,Regional forums etc
  • Mains GS Paper II: bilateral, regional and global grouping involving India or affecting India’s interests etc



  • December 8 is commemorated as SAARC Charter Day.
    • 37 years ago, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), an intergovernmental organization, was established.




   South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation(SAARC):

  • The SAARC was established with the signing of the SAARC Charter in Dhaka on 8 December 1985.
  • Founding countries—Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
  • Afghanistan joined SAARC at the 13th annual summit in 2005.
  • The Headquarters and Secretariat of the Association are at Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • Cooperation within the framework of the SAARC is based on:
    • Respect for the principles of sovereign equality
    • Territorial integrity
    • Political independence
    • Non-interference in the internal affairs of other States
    • Mutual benefit.
  • Areas of Cooperation:
  1. Human Resource Development and Tourism
  2. Agriculture and Rural Development
  3. Environment, Natural Disasters and Biotechnology
  4. Economic, Trade and Finance
  5. Social Affairs
  6. Information and Poverty Alleviation
  7. Energy, Transport, Science and Technology
  8. Education, Security and Culture and Others


Issues with the SAARC:

  • Poverty: South Asia continues to be an extremely poor and least integrated region in the world.
  • The intraregional trade and investment in South Asia are very low when compared to other regions such as the Association of SouthEast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Pakistan has adopted an obstructionist attitude within SAARC by repeatedly blocking several vital initiatives such as the motor vehicles agreement, aimed at bolstering regional connectivity.
  • Deepening hostility between India and Pakistan has made matters worse.
  • Since 2014: No SAARC summit has taken place leaving the organization rudderless, and practically dead.


Importance of SAARC:

  • SAARC is the only intergovernmental organization with a pan-South Asia reach.
  • India can judiciously employ it to serve its interests in the entire region.
  • Soft power: A weakened SAARC also means heightened instability in other promising regional institutions such as the South Asian University (SAU), which is critical to India’s soft power in the region.


Significance of regionalism:

  • Regionalism has brought immense success in other parts such as East Asia and Africa.
  • Regionalism can deliver prosperity in the South Asian region: especially because multilateralism is weakening.


International lawyers Julien Chaisse and Pasha L. Hsieh:

  • Regional economic order: They have developed the concept of a new regional economic order.
  • Trade-development model: A process through which developing countries search for a trade-development model, based on incrementalism and flexibility
  • Different from the neoliberal model laid down by the Washington Consensus.


Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral, Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC):


  • It is an intergovernmental organization established in 1997.
  • BIMSTEC comprises:
    • Five South Asian nations (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka)
    • Two ASEAN countries (Myanmar and Thailand).


Why is BIMSTEC charter better than SAARC?

  • Article 6: Unlike the SAARC Charter, Article 6 of the BIMSTEC Charter talks about the ‘Admission of new members’ to the group.
    • This paves the way for the admission of countries such as the Maldives.
  • BIMSTEC Charter, to boost economic integration: It does not contain the flexible participation scheme of the kind present in the ASEAN Charter.
  • No country enjoys veto power to thwart economic integration between willing countries: BIMSTEC does not contain a flexible participation scheme.


Way Forward

  • Bilateralism: India can successfully use the instrument of bilateralism over regionalism to pursue its interests.
    • Bilateralism is undoubtedly important but it cannot not substitute regional or multilateral efforts.
  • Reviving SAARC by infusing political energy into it and updating its dated Charter will be an ideal way forward.
  • Flexible ‘BIMSTEC Minus X’ formula: It might allow India and Bangladesh or India and Thailand to conduct their ongoing bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations under the broader BIMSTEC umbrella.
    • It will enable the gradual and incremental expansion of these binding commitments to other members.
    • Amendments: India should press for this amendment in the BIMSTEC Charter.
  • BIMSTEC should not end up as another SAARC: Member countries should raise the stakes.
    • A high-quality FTA offering deep economic integration would be an ideal step.
  • India should explore legal ways: to move successful SAARC institutions such as SAU to BIMSTEC.
    • These steps will give stronger roots to BIMSTEC
    • It will enable erecting a new South Asian regional order based on incrementalism and flexibility.



Q. Do you think that BIMSTEC is a parallel organization like the SAARC ? What are the similarities and dissimilarities between the two ? How are Indian foreign policy objectives realized by forming this new organization?(UPSC 2022) (200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)