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Look at e-comm, new models of trade, says forum looking to revive BCIM

Meeting after a gap of four years, the joint statement released by the 13th BCIM Regional Cooperation Forum didn’t make any mention of the corridor as part of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

world Updated: Jun 13, 2019 10:10 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Beijing
BCIM,World news,BCIM Regional Cooperation Forum
China had dropped the BCIM-EC from the list of 35 corridors under the BRI, released at the end of the 2nd BRI Forum held in Beijing in April.(File photo for representation)

The Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar economic corridor (BCIM-EC) should focus on developing e-commerce instead of waiting for physical infrastructure to come up, a leading study group looking into reviving the seemingly stillborn trade route has suggested.

Meeting after a gap of four years, the joint statement released on Tuesday by the 13th BCIM Regional Cooperation Forum, comprising scholars and officials from the four countries, didn’t make any mention of the corridor as part of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The Forum met in Yuxi in the southwestern Yunnan province on Tuesday.

The corridor envisages a trade route between Kunming in Yunnan and Kolkata in India that passes through Mandalay in Myanmar and Chittagong in Bangladesh.

Tuesday’s forum focused on the theme: “New Era New Opportunities for A New Decade of BCIM Cooperation” – the theme itself an indication that the corridor needs a fresh look.

China had dropped the BCIM-EC from the list of 35 corridors under the BRI, released at the end of the 2nd BRI Forum held in Beijing in April.

It had led to speculation that the multilateral impetus to promote and build the BCIM had fizzled and that it was the end of the road for the initiative.

Foreign ministry spokesperson, Geng Shuang tried to allay the doubts on Monday.

At the regular press briefing on Monday, he said “…BCIM has not been abandoned. It is very much on board… In fact, the 13th meeting of the BCIM forum to discuss the progress is being held on the sidelines of the China, South Asia Business Forum currently being held in Yunnan province,” he had said.

The joint statement said that 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the BCIM cooperation mechanism – sort of admitting that nothing much has moved on the ground to build the corridor for two decades.

The meeting focussed on four topics: Improving cooperation mechanism of the BCIM Forum, stronger cooperation on BCIM comprehensive connectivity, trade and investment facilitation for stronger competitiveness of the regional economy, and enriching BCIM cooperation in social and cultural sectors.

“It is necessary to further deepen cooperation and promote substantial progress in the building of the BCIM EC while considering the specific circumstances of the Parties (the four countries). Efforts should be made to optimise the policy environment for the connectivity and to facilitate the efficient, systematic and orderly cross-border flow of goods and services,” the joint statement said.

The statement added: “The Parties noted that the infrastructure development faces the challenge of inadequate capital investment. In view of this, the Parties are willing to work together to innovate the application of public-private partnerships in conformity with the laws and regulations of the Parties to efficiently utilise financial resources”.

The joint statement suggested stronger e-commerce ties between the four countries.

“The Parties called for upholding multilateralism and free-trade and further strengthening regional economic and trade exchanges, promoting investment cooperation and cross-border logistics. The Parties agreed to support enterprises, especially SMEs, of the four countries to utilise e-commerce and other new models for developing cross-border trade,” it added.

It remains to be seen how the BCIM-EC progresses. Luo Zhaohui, who is now vice foreign minister, wrote as the Chinese envoy to India in May in the Hindustan Times: “China and India have conducted cooperation under the framework of BCIM. During the Wuhan Summit, PM Narendra Modi pointed out that the BCIM construction should be speeded up. We expect that the fourth meeting of the Joint Study Group (an official group) would be held later this year to complete the joint study report”.

First Published: Jun 13, 2019 10:10 IST