It is the “trust deficit” which is standing in the way of connectivity in the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sector Technical and Economic Co-operation (BIMSTEC) grouping.
Indian think-tank CUTS and the BIMSTEC secretariat in Dhaka brought together experts of the member states at a conference on Tuesday to discuss the ways of facilitating connectivity in the region.
Syed Monowar Hussain, former director of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority, stressed the need for dispelling some perception prevailing among the people.
“When you talk about connectivity with India, the perception is that it is only for the benefit of India. We could not make it clear to the people. We have to work on it and make people understand that this is for mutual benefit.”
Jayantha Colombage, director of the Centre for Indo-Lanka Initiatives of the Pathfinder Foundation, shared his personal experience while describing setbacks to connectivity.
He said he got only four-day visa for coming to Bangladesh to attend the conference. “When I applied to the US, I got a five-year visa with multiple entries, for the UK, I got two years. But when I applied to Bangladesh, the Bangladesh High Commission in Sri Lanka gave me a visa to stay for only four days.”
“How can we enhance connectivity when we have so strict visa?” he said, asking the BIMSTEC to look into those issues.”
“We are in fact the most unintegrated region in the world, though we have so much in common,” he said. “It’s a food for thought for BIMSTEC.”
“For peace and prosperity, we need connectivity.”
“We share common values but we are less integrated for political reasons,” said Sudip Dey, secretary of Calcutta Customs House Agent Association India.
“Now time has come to say enough is enough.”
“What we need is that the connectivity of mindset. We distrust each other for political reasons. We have fear factors within us. There is a lot of research on trade and connectivity, but now we need research on the whole issue of how to address this distrust.”
Born in 1997, the BIMSTEC connects South Asia with Southeast Asia and accounts for 21 percent of the world population, providing huge potential for trade.
But the intra-regional trade is so negligible that it is not even documented.
The BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement was signed in 2004 to establish a free trade area in the region, but it was not implemented yet.
The conference being held at the BIMSTEC Secretariat in Dhaka was part of its series of events this year marking its 20th anniversary. bdnews24.com is its media partner.
Opening the conference, BIMSTEC Secretary General Sumith Nakandala said that the Bay of Bengal region was “historically well connected”.