Pitching for early conclusion of the BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said countries in Asia should give a new strategic thrust to the cooperation in the backdrop of global financial crisis.
"We should do something visible in the area of trade and economic cooperation as a manifestation of our ability to do something big together," he said while inaugurating the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit in New Delhi.
Observing considerable progress has been made towards BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreement for trade in goods, Singh said early conclusion of such an agreement would be a shining example of cooperation among the members.
"We also look forward to the next stage of an agreement in the area of investment and services," he told the Summit being attended by BIMSTEC leaders from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Thailand.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda', Bangladesh's Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed, Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein, Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley and Thai Premier Somchai Wangsawat are attending the day-long second summit.
Globalisation and economic interdependence offer opportunities for growth and prosperity but also have their downside, the Prime Minister said adding the "recent international economic and financial crisis has amply shown (this)."
"BIMSTEC is an opportunity we should seize together", he said reminding that the combined GDP in the region increased two and a half times to reach 1.7 trillion US dollars in the past 10 years.
Noting that climate change, energy, food security and terrorism and maritime threats continued to pose a challenge to the region, Singh said that countries should give a new strategic thrust in the background of these challenges.
"We should undertake a comprehensive review of our activities. We should prepare a blue print for future activities that is focused on a limited number of issues or areas of common priority," the Prime Minister said.
BIMSTEC members, he said, should also focus on maritime transport such as construction of deep-water port, inter-modal connectivity and cooperation of port authorities and shipping lines.
Referring to the devastating tsunami in 2004 and the need for collective action to deal with such a disaster, he said "India has set up a Tsunami Early Warning Centre. We would be happy to extend information exchange and data sharing arrangement to BIMSTEC countries".
Pointing out that India was in the process of establishing Nalanda University, Singh said that New Delhi would be happy to offer another 150 scholarships to encourage greater exchange of technical know-how among BIMSTEC nations.
India is already providing 300 scholarships for BIMSTEC countries.