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Regional Connectivity: BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity

SAWTEE with the support of The Asia Foundation organized a webinar on “Regional Connectivity: BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity” on Friday, 23 September, 2022. The meeting discussed connectivity in the BIMSTEC region, with a special focus on the recently published BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity. The meeting was the first among a series of civil society forums to raise awareness and deepen dialogue among civil society organizations in South Asia and the Bay of Bengal region so that they can understand and effectively contribute to deliberations and decisions in formal, official cooperation platforms. The online session saw the participation of representatives from civil society organizations, think tanks, private sectors and academicians. 

Background Note  

Civil society organizations (CSOs) can play a constructive role in shaping policy discourse and actual policies through dialogue and advocacy. CSOs’ reach and engagement are not confined to political and diplomatic boundaries. CSOs have proven to be effective in improving cross-border communication and bridging the trust deficit between countries. Cross-border coalition of CSOs can have a positive impact in areas such as managing transboundary resources, formalizing informal channels of trade, and disaster risk reduction, among others. Cross-border regional CSO communication and advocacy platforms complement bilateral engagements as well as formal regional platforms such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). Cross-border CSO dialogue could be instrumental in bringing grassroots concerns out in bilateral and regional forums. These formal regional initiatives also seek to engage CSOs on a regular basis to receive feedback on their policy approaches. 

Against this background, South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE), with the support of The Asia Foundation, is organizing a series of civil society forums to raise awareness and deepen dialogue among CSOs in South Asia and the Bay of Bengal region so that they can understand and effectively contribute to deliberations and decisions in formal, official cooperation platforms. 

The objective of the forums is to maintain and serve as a platform for connecting CSOs to build constructive engagement processes for civil society participation through a regional consultation forum. The specific objectives are: 

a) To mobilize and promote partnership and networking among CSOs in the region that work on similar and diverse issues in their respective countries; 

b) To demystify regional cooperation initiatives for the benefit of the wider civil society, and discuss regional cooperation agenda through the lens of diverse CSOs; 

c) To provide key policy proposals and pathways. 

A topic that is pertinent to be discussed among CSOs is the recently published BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity. The master plan highlights the importance of integrated regional connectivity through transportation. The master plan has come up with strategies to enhance connectivity among BISMTEC nations. It covers both hard and soft infrastructures including services to achieve enhanced connectivity and sustainable development in the BIMSTEC region. Thus, the focus of the first forum is “Regional Connectivity: BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity”. 

Program Agenda 

Proceedings  

Dr. Ganesh Prasad Pandeya, Secretary, Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, during his inaugural remarks at forum, highlighted the importance of regional integration. He said, “Regional integration is crucial to resolve issues that are extremely difficult to resolve in the multilateral setting.” 

Dr. Thiam Hee Ng, Director, Regional Coordination and Operations Cooperation Division, Asian Development Bank, in his remarks emphasized that all member countries need to work together to effectively implement the BIMSTEC Master Plan.  

Professor Prabir De, Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), said, “It is the time to allow Bhutan and Nepal to operate their own sea ports in India- these are historical precedents.” 

Mr. Rabi Shankar Sainju, Trade Facilitation Expert said,” The BIMSTEC master plan has included trade facilitation as a major subject along with physical infrastructure at border crossings. However, a lot in terms of both infrastructure and facilitation still needs to be done. 

Mr. Sainju expressed the need of gap assessment to ensure smooth implementation of the master plan.  

Mr. Achyut Bhandari, Co-Founder, Centre for Research on Bhutanese Society, highlighted that clarity on overall coordination in implementing the BIMSTEC Master Plan is necessary. He pointed, “Political will does not necessarily translate into action during the implementation of the BIMSTEC Master Plan. To make it implementable, there needs to be clarity on who does the overall coordination. Since there are programs and actions that cross border, there is a need for clarity on the roles and responsibilities of each member country in implementing the master plan.” 

 Dr. Posh Raj Pandey, Chairperson, SAWTEE, emphasized that the physical infrastructure should be complemented by software aspects of connectivity.  

 Recordings