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Daily Current Affairs 03.04.2022(India-Australia deal seeks to double bilateral trade in 5 years, Nepal PM seeks steps to resolve border dispute, Northeast part of ‘mainstream’: Rijiju, As war depletes wheat granaries across the world, India looks to fill the void, Evolution can happen at shorter timescales, Why is Sri Lanka under a state of Emergency?, Roubles for fuel, defence deals with Russia, How has BIMSTEC fine tuned its agenda?)

Daily Current Affairs 03.04.2022(India-Australia deal seeks to double bilateral trade in 5 years, Nepal PM seeks steps to resolve border dispute, Northeast part of ‘mainstream’: Rijiju, As war depletes wheat granaries across the world, India looks to fill the void, Evolution can happen at shorter timescales, Why is Sri Lanka under a state of Emergency?, Roubles for fuel, defence deals with Russia, How has BIMSTEC fine tuned its agenda?)

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1. India-Australia deal seeks to double bilateral trade in 5 years

Significant economic pact for New Delhi amid Canberra’s tensions with Beijing

India and Australia signed an Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA) on Saturday in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart in Canberra Scott Morrison, with an eye on doubling bilateral trade to $50 billion in five years and easing movement of people, goods and services across borders.

The agreement with Australia, which Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal expects would create 10 lakh additional jobs in the country over the next five years, was described as a ‘watershed moment in bilateral ties’ by Mr. Modi.

“On the basis of this agreement, together, we will be able to increase the resilience of supply chains, and also contribute to the stability of the Indo-Pacific region,” he said about the deal that will facilitate work visas for two to four years for Indian students in Australia on a ‘reciprocal basis’ and allow Indian chefs and yoga professionals to work in the country.

The trade and economic partnership deal with Australia, which is in the middle of a trade battle with China, is a significant milestone at a time when the developed world is looking to hedge its supply chain dependence.

A government statement noted that this is also the first such pact signed by India with a developed country in a decade. Mr. Morrison said the deal “opens a big door into the world’s fastest growing major economy for Australian farmers, manufacturers, producers and many more”.

Indian exports to Australia have been growing at a rapid clip and the agreement, which may be expanded further after its implementation in the current form, will facilitate zero duty access “on over 96% of Indian exports, including several labour-intensive industries,” Mr. Goyal said.

India will, in turn, offer preferential access to Australia on over 70% of its tariff lines on goods imports, including ‘lines of export interest to Australia which are primarily raw materials and intermediaries such as coal, mineral ores and wines, etc.’, the Commerce Ministry said.

2. Nepal PM seeks steps to resolve border dispute

Modi, Deuba hold bilateral talks in New Delhi, flag off the first cross-border railway link between India and Nepal

India and Nepal on Saturday discussed the Kalapani border dispute, said Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba in New Delhi on Saturday. The visiting Nepalese Prime Minister and Prime Minister Narendra Modi jointly inaugurated the first cross-border rail link between India and Nepal. Nepal also became the 105th member country to sign on to the Framework Agreement of International Solar Alliance (ISA).

“We discussed the boundary issue and I urged Modiji to resolve it through the establishment of a bilateral mechanism,” said Mr. Deuba. The visit of the Nepalese leader is the first since the Kalapani boundary issue erupted in November 2019 after the revised political map of India depicted the triangular area of Kalapani-Lipulek-Limpiyadhura within the territory of Uttarakhand.

Kathmandu responded by placing a revised political map of the country in the national insignia of Nepal.

Joint decision

Both sides were expected to address the issue under an existing mechanism led by the Foreign Secretaries but that meeting is yet to be announced. Nepal had earlier written to New Delhi seeking the meeting of the Foreign Secretary-level mechanism to discuss the border dispute at Kalapani.

India also urged Nepal to avoid “politicisation“ of the boundary dispute. Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, briefing the media after the talks, said, “There was a general understanding that both sides needed to address this in a responsible manner through discussion and dialogue. In the spirit of our close and friendly relations, politicisation of such issues should be avoided.”

India’s position on avoiding politicisation of the Kalapani issue appears to be aimed at the upcoming election season in the Himalayan country when emotive issues like the border dispute are expected to be raised during political campaigns by both the Opposition led by former PM K.P. Sharma Oli and some sections of the ruling coalition of Nepali Congress and CPN-Maoist Centre.

The two leaders inaugurated the broad gauge Jaynagar-Kurtha rail link that will establish rail connectivity to Janakpur in Nepal. India also launched the RuPay card facility in Nepal during the formal ceremony held at the Hyderabad House.

Power projects

The two sides came out with a Joint Vision Statement on Power Sector cooperation between India and Nepal recognising “unprecedented opportunities”. Prime Minister Modi and PM Deuba jointly inaugurated the 90-km-long 132 KVDC Solu Corridor Transmission line and substation that were built through the Line of Credit extended by India.

Both the leaders welcomed the February 28 Nepal-India agreement to enable long term supply of fertilizers from India to Nepal, a key demand of Kathmandu to deal with the fertilizer crisis in the country. For the past few years, Nepal’s agriculture sector has been suffering from a shortage of urea and chemical fertilizers. Under the G-2-G agreement, Kathmandu can import around 210,000 metric tonnes of chemical fertilizer from India annually.

3. Northeast part of ‘mainstream’: Rijiju

‘Lifting of AFSPA from most parts has put States in a transformative mode’

Terming the Centre’s decision to lift the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from large parts of Assam, Nagaland and Manipur “historic”, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Saturday said peace had been restored in the northeastern region.

At a press conference here, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju, who is an MP from Arunachal Pradesh, said the region was now part of the national “mainstream”, all set to become the country’s most important economic hub. He attributed the achievement to the two-pronged approach of the Narendra Modi-led government: of development and dialogue with disgruntled groups in the region. Mr. Rijiju said after Mr. Modi became the Prime Minister, the previous “Look East” policy turned into “Act East” policy, owing to which the northeastern States were now in a transformative mode. The Prime Minister, during his tenure so far, had visited the region about 50 times, he said.

Stating that development and peace were interlinked, the Union Minister said the very fact that AFSPA had been removed in most parts of Assam, Nagaland and Manipur meant that peace had been restored there, barring some areas where the situation would improve. He said the Prime Minister’s vision of lifting the Act off the entire region would soon be accomplished.

Mr. Rijiju said under Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s leadership, the Ministry of Home Affairs implemented the Prime Minister’s vision effectively by actively engaging with the region’s political leaders. Several long-standing inter-State border disputes were being handled properly.

The first part of major differences between Meghalaya and Assam had been settled, while the rest would be resolved soon. The first phase of addressing the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh boundary issues was expected to begin by the end of the month. The Assam-Nagaland and the Mizoram-Assam border disputes were also being addressed, the Minister said.

Mr. Rijiju said in the past few years, peace accords had been signed with various insurgent groups. On the development front, ₹76,000 crore was allocated this year. Besides, the Centre’s flagship schemes were being implemented across the region.

It was now up to the people of and the State governments to effectively make use of the resources, he said.

BJP national spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia said the Central government under Mr. Modi did not shy away from identifying and amicably resolving issues, however big.

4. As war depletes wheat granaries across the world, India looks to fill the void

While farmers stand to gain from exports amid a bumper harvest, food security campaigners urge caution

Russia and Ukraine account for about 25% of the world’s wheat exports. However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent Western sanctions against Moscow have curtailed wheat supplies drastically. As a result, many countries which were sourcing wheat mainly from these two nations are now in a dire need of alternatives.

India, the largest wheat producer after China, is reported to be eyeing the void. The government plans to allow increased exports to cash in on the higher price of wheat in international market.

Food security campaigners however, emphasise the need to prioritise local prices and ensure adequate supplies for domestic consumption before deciding on the quantum of exports.

While Russia and Ukraine exported 183 million tonnes (MT) and 91 MT of wheat, respectively, between 2017 and 2021, India exported just a fraction of its output, or just 12.6 MT, in the period. Five other countries accounted for the bulk of wheat exports in this period, including the European Union (157 MT), the U.S. (125 MT), Canada (112 MT) and Australia (83 MT).

India, which had the second-highest wheat supply (including production, existing stocks and imports) in this period at 613 million tonnes, exported only 2% of this, with about 80% used for domestic consumption, and the rest stored. In contrast, other leading exporters could sell big chunks of their supply. For instance, the U.S. exported 31% of its 404 MT of supply in the 2017-2021 period. Canada exported 60.5% of its 186 MT, while Australia exported 57% of its supply of 146 MT.

Many countries in Africa, West Asia and Southeast Asia rely heavily on Russian and Ukrainian wheat. Egypt, the biggest importer of wheat, sources 93% of its needs from the East European neighbours. Indonesia, the second-largest importer, has a 30% dependence on these two nations. African nations such as Sudan (60% reliance), Tanzania (64%), Libya (53%), Tunisia (52%), and West Asian countries including Lebanon (77% dependency), Yemen (50%) and the UAE (42%) are also highly dependent on supplies from the two neighbours now at war.

Focus markets

India is now focussing on exporting wheat to many of these nations, said APEDA(Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority) Chairman Madhaiyaan Angamuthu.

“Our focus markets are Egypt, Turkey, Nigeria, Algeria, West Asia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, the Philippines, Morocco and Tanzania,” he added.

“To give impetus to the export promotion of wheat as well as to bring focus on the challenges and bottlenecks faced in production and export, APEDA has created a task group,” Dr. Angamuthu said.

With India’s wheat harvesting season (March to May) coinciding with the supply crunch, a bumper crop expected again this year, and a significant amount of buffer stocks, food security campaigners agree that India is well-poised to step in and fill the void. However, they cautioned that India should not lose focus on domestic needs while exporting surplus wheat.

Ensuring the stability of prices in India and availability of grain for internal consumption should be of utmost priority to the Indian government while ensuring that farmers are adequately compensated, said Dipa Sinha, Assistant Professor at the School of Liberal Studies at Ambedkar University, Delhi.

“Meeting food security requirements for all Indians should be the first priority of the government,” said Dr. Sinha, who was involved with the Right to Food campaign. “This would require continuing with the PDS [public distribution system], Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) and also expanding the net to bring in more people who are currently excluded. This is also essential considering that the market prices are expected to increase further. On the other hand, with higher prices being available, the government should consider buying wheat required for these food security requirements from the Indian farmers at a better price than the current MSP,” she added.

“The government should plan this move in such a way that it does not impact local consumption. A bumper crop of wheat is expected, so the government can procure enough for its distribution and buffer needs. Further, as of now, there are no export restrictions, so farmers can also get the advantage of higher prices by selling the surplus to private traders for exports,” Dr. Sinha opined.

Objections may arise

The contentious issue of exporting wheat from the FCI stocks adds another dimension. A trade expert, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that if India decides to export wheat from its stocks, some developed nations may raise objections at the World Trade Organisation. Already, in March, India was accused of exporting rice from its stocks. India had replied that its rice exports were not from stocks set aside under the public stock holding programmes.

Biraj Patnaik, former Principal Adviser to the Commissioners of the Indian Supreme Court in the Right to Food case, observed that the peace clause adopted in WTO’s Bali Ministerial in 2014 does not prevent India from exporting foodgrains. “With the buffer stocks at hand, India should increase its wheat exports in order to stabilise global prices to the extent that it can,” Mr. Patnaik said. “It is also important because the countries that were dependent on Russia and Ukraine for their wheat are looking for an alternative source. The government should use this opportunity by procuring all the wheat grown at minimum support price which would serve the interests of Indian farmers,” he said. Exports should not be done at the cost of domestic consumption, especially with the recent expansion of the PMGKAY program, he cautioned.

5. Evolution can happen at shorter timescales

Not all evolution happens due to habitat destruction, invasion or pollution; researchers can track changes in real-time

Have we grossly underestimated the pace of evolution? That was a question that we sought to answer with our 2014 study on dynamic adaptation in fruit flies. The premise was that if adaptive tracking did occur in populations experiencing rapid environmental change, it would alter our understanding of the importance of evolutionary change for ecological outcomes.

Thus began a large-scale research initiative spread over eight years by evolutionary biologists across three universities — Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania and Ahmedabad University.

The results of the study — direct observation of adaptive tracking on ecological timescales — in Drosophila was published in the journal Science.

Evolution process

The study has vastly changed our understanding of evolution and questioned the old notion of evolution being a slow process occurring over a longer period of time. We now have evidence that the change is actually happening faster than we ever thought and that not all evolution happens due to habitat destruction, invasion or pollution. It establishes that evolutionary changes happen quickly and researchers can track these in real time — within a single seasonal turn in a year. It’s that rapid.

Experiment on fruit flies

Taking fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) as the sample, we began a large-scale controlled field experiment in Pennsylvania for four months from July-November 2014. What we did was directly measure phenotypic and genomic evolution in response to natural seasonal change across 10 independent replicate field populations (mesocosms), each comprising up to 1,00,000 fruit flies. This study was vastly different from the ones done earlier to track adaptive changes in shorter time spans.

The population size and replication in our study were the distinguishing factors. We conducted a large-scale research to ensure accuracy of results. Replication was also of utmost importance to establish our premise. Which is why not only was our sample size large but we also had 10 replicate cages (mesocosms), each of which gave comparable results.

Predatory conditions

In these mesocosm cages, the fruit flies experienced the same seasonal changes — heat, rain, cold, they had the same food, and were exposed to the same predatory conditions. Changes were then observed in six phenotypes related to reproductive output or stress tolerance. We sampled individuals from the original population, and 2,500 eggs from each cage at the first four time points of observation. The genomes were sequenced to measure genomic change over time.

Population dynamics were largely consistent among the replicates — population size increased sharply during summer, peaked in early fall and then declined steadily as minimum daily temperatures reduced in late fall. Egg production showed a similar pattern while overall egg to adult growth was low.

Historical perspective

Comparable outcomes were seen in fruit flies kept in the replicate cages too. Eminent evolutionary biologists Professor Ary A. Hoffmann from Melbourne University, Australia, and Professor Thomas Flatt from University of Fribourg, Switzerland, wrote a perspective piece in the same issue of Science about this study. They appreciated the large study and gave a historical perspective around this long-standing problem in evolutionary biology.

A study as large as this has manifold outcomes. Firstly, in understanding the field life of fruit flies a little more which will have a large impact on our basic understanding of evolution. We hope to see parallel reports in other taxa over the years (that is, observable evolutionary changes in ecological time scales).

Also, biologists could better predict the future of species experiencing rapid changes in climatic variables. More work needs to be done on these lines.

Interesting question

Finally, this study raises several interesting questions around species conservation efforts. Do populations with large standing genetic variation turn out to be more successful in handling changing climate and others not?

6. Why is Sri Lanka under a state of Emergency?

What has brought on the economic crisis in the island nation? How are India and other countries helping?

The story so far: On Friday night, a day after angry citizens converged in front of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Colombo residence, demanding he step down immediately, he declared a state of Emergency in Sri Lanka. An extraordinary gazette notification said the Emergency, coming into immediate effect, was “in the interests of public security, the protection of public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community.” On Saturday, the government imposed an all-island curfew, restricting movement until Monday morning. Sri Lanka is in the midst of a sharp economic downturn that has led to severe food shortages and growing public resentment.

What triggered the crisis?

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis can be traced to two key developments in the immediate past — the Easter Sunday bombings of 2019 that deterred tourists, and the pandemic since early 2020 that stalled recovery and further drained the economy. As it grappled with an unprecedented challenge, the Rajapaksa regime made policy choices that are now proving to be costly. It cut the government’s tax revenue substantially and rushed into an ‘organic only’ agricultural policy that will likely slash this year’s harvest by half. The weak and debt-ridden economy with the lingering strain of the pandemic, and ill-advised policies accelerated the downward spiral.

What were the economic indicators?

COVID-19 hit Sri Lanka’s key foreign revenue earning sectors hard. Earnings from tourism, exports, and worker remittances fell sharply in the last two years. But the country could not stop importing essentials, and its dollar account began dwindling. Fast draining foreign reserves, a glaring trade deficit, and a related Balance of Payments problem came as crucial signals. Colombo’s huge foreign loan obligations and the drop in domestic production compounded the economic strain.

When did things begin to worsen?

The long-simmering crisis made its first big announcement during last August’s food emergency, when supplies were badly affected. It was soon followed by fears of a sovereign default in late 2021, which Sri Lanka averted. But without enough dollars to pay for the country’s high import bill, the island continued facing severe shortage of essentials — from fuel, cooking gas, and staple foodgrains to medicines.

How did the crisis manifest itself on the ground?

Consumers could not find the most basic things such as petrol, LPG cylinders, kerosene, or milk in the market. They spent hours waiting in long queues outside fuel stations or shops. Supermarket shelves were either empty or had products with high price tags that most could not afford. For instance, the price of one kg of milk powder, a staple item in dairy-deficient Sri Lanka, suddenly shot up to nearly LKR 2000 in March.

Be it cooking gas, oils, rice, pulses, vegetables, fish, meat, consumers found themselves paying substantially more, or simply had to forego the item. The fuel shortage has led to long blackouts — up to 13 hours — across the island.

What is the situation now?

The value of the Sri Lankan rupee has dropped to 300 against a U.S. dollar (and even more than 400 in the black market), putting importers in a difficult spot.

The government is unable to pay for its import shipments, forcing consignments to leave the Colombo port. For the average citizen contending with COVID-induced salary cuts and job losses, the soaring living costs have brought more agony.

Has the government sought help?

Yes, including from India which has extended $2.4 billion this year, and China, that is considering a fresh request from Colombo for $2.5 billion assistance, in addition to the $2.8 billion it has extended since the pandemic broke out. The government has decided to negotiate an International Monetary Fund programme, while seeking support from other multilateral and bilateral sources. But even with all this help, Sri Lanka can barely manage. Recovery will neither be fast nor easy, say experts.

How has it affected the people?

Sri Lankans are seething with anger, going by public demonstrations and protests. They want the President to step down immediately and the ruling clan to leave the country’s helm. They have been agitating in different parts of the country, including near the President’s home. Former military man Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who came to power on a huge mandate in 2019, is Sri Lanka’s most unpopular leader today. In a televised address on March 16, he promised “tough decisions to find solutions to the inconveniences that people are experiencing.” Following the protests near his home, Mr. Rajapaksa said “extremists” were plotting an ‘Arab Spring’ and on Friday night, he declared a state of Emergency.

7. Roubles for fuel, defence deals with Russia

How is India circumventing the sanctions route to ensure supplies are not stopped? What is in the pipeline?

The story so far: The last two weeks saw a flurry of visits by senior officials from the West to convince India not to undermine sanctions on Russia by opting for payments in national currencies as also not to increase purchase of discounted oil from Russia. On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was in New Delhi, the first high-level visit since the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine.

What is the status of oil purchases from Russia?

“We have started buying Russian oil and have bought at least three to four days of supply,” Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Friday. Mr. Lavrov reiterated that Russia is moving ahead with the use of national currencies in lieu of dollar payments with both India and China and these efforts would be “intensified”.

“I have no doubt that a way would be found to bypass the artificial impediments which illegal unilateral sanctions by the West create. This relates also to the area of military and technical cooperation. We have no doubt that the solution would be found and respective ministries are working,” Mr. Lavrov said, addressing a press conference after bilateral talks with his Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar.

The developments came a day after the U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economics Daleep Singh warned of “consequences” to countries that actively attempt to circumvent or backfill the sanctions.

In sharp comments on Thursday during a conversation with visiting U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Mr. Jaishankar termed it a “campaign” against India for buying Russian oil at discounted prices while European countries remain the biggest buyers of oil and gas from Russia despite their announcements to scale it down.

India and Russia have been working on streamlining payments through the rupee-rouble mechanism circumventing the SWIFT system and the dollar route. Towards this, earlier in the week, a team from Russia’s central bank met officials from the Reserve Bank of India to iron out issues and identify banks that have no exposure to the Western sanctions through which payments can be made. Mr. Jaishankar informed Parliament recently that a special inter-ministerial group led by the Finance Ministry has been tasked with resolving payment issues for trade with Russia.

According to Reuters, India bought at least 13 million barrels of Russian oil since the Ukraine war began on February 24, a steep rise from last year, when India bought 16 million barrels of Russian oil in all of 2021.

What about defence deals?

The Defence Ministry and the Services have carried out assessments and are closely monitoring the impact the sanctions can have on timely deliveries and supplies from Russia as several major deals are also underway. Officials have stated that while some shipping delays were possible, there would not be any dent in the Army’s operational preparedness along the borders especially the Line of Actual Control.

In addition, the armed forces have also made significant emergency procurements in the last two years since the standoff in eastern Ladakh and have stocked up on spares and ammunition. So, there shouldn’t be any immediate urgency for spares and other requirements, officials noted.

For the two countries, payment by a rupee-rouble arrangement is not new. For instance, for the $5.43 billion deal for S-400 air defence systems signed in October 2018, with the looming threat of U.S. sanctions under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), the two sides had worked out payments through the rupee-rouble exchange. In fact, the delivery schedule got slightly delayed as the payment details were being worked out. Last December, India began taking deliveries and the first unit has been deployed on the western border. The second unit is scheduled to arrive shortly, officials stated.

In addition, several new deals are in the pipeline including 12 Su-30MKI aircraft and 21 MiG-29 fighter jets for the Indian Air Force. However, the Defence Ministry is carrying out a review of all direct import deals and some of them including those from Russia are expected to be dropped as part of the push towards domestic manufacturing.

According to a recent report from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India’s defence imports reduced by 21% between 2012-16 and 2017-21 and while Russia continues to remain the largest arms supplier, the percentage has dropped. “Russia was the largest supplier of major arms to India in both 2012-16 and 2017-21, but India’s imports of Russian arms dropped by 47% between the two periods as several large programmes for Russian arms wound down,” the report said.

8. How has BIMSTEC fine tuned its agenda?

What are the aims and functions of the multilateral grouping in handling challenges in the Bay of Bengal region?

The story so far: Amid the financial crisis of 1997, leading Southeast Asian and South Asian nations came together to form the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). The underlying factor behind the grouping was that if connected together, the economic powerhouses of South Asia and Southeast Asia could deal with the challenges of pursuing free market economies in the limits imposed by local political and economic factors. In its 25th year, and at its fifth summit held in hybrid format in Colombo, the organisation adopted a charter which aims at providing greater coordination among the seven members — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar and Thailand.

Why is there a need to revitalise the multilateral grouping?

The new charter comes at a time when the need for an alternative regional-global organisation is increasingly being felt because of the moribund nature of SAARC which has not met since November 2014. For long, BIMSTEC existed as a platform for policy dialogue but the global churning over sanctions on Russia after the war in Ukraine appears to have contributed towards finetuning the focus of the grouping. It wants to be an organisation which can find autonomous space away from bigger trade and defence groupings and work for the development of the region around the Bay of Bengal.

What does BIMSTEC’s connectivity vision aim to achieve?

The BIMSTEC Master Plan for Transport Connectivity seeks to connect several major transport projects in India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand and establish a shipping network across the Bay of Bengal that will benefit the littoral states as well as the Bay of Bengal dependent states like Nepal and Bhutan. The BBIN connectivity project of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal is expected to be merged with the port and infrastructure projects like the Sittwe port of Myanmar and Payra port of Bangladesh and Colombo of Sri Lanka.

Is the Free Trade Agreement plan feasible?

A framework agreement for a Free Trade Agreement among the members of BIMSTEC was signed in 2004, and has been revived again. The idea is to create stronger trade relations among players in the Bay of Bengal region but negotiations on finalising legal instruments for coastal shipping, tying up road transport and other issues will take time to be sorted out.

What is the security pillar aiming to achieve?

The Bay of Bengal has enormous significance from the security point of view. It borders the Strait of Malacca which is the main energy lane for the eastern and Southeast Asian nations. That apart, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have often suffered from terrorism. The security relevance of BIMSTEC, therefore, has been growing especially after the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka in 2019. India will steer the security pillar of BIMSTEC and is expected to coordinate regionwide security cooperation on jointly agreed issues.

Will it mediate in bilateral issues?

BIMSTEC members like Myanmar and Bangladesh have challenges like the Rohingya crisis that both sides have been dealing with since 2017. The tense relations between the two countries had hampered smooth working of the BIMSTEC for some time. But as of now the grouping, by including Myanmar in the summit in Colombo, has indicated that it will not interfere in domestic political problems and nor will it allow any member to be sidelined within the organisation. SAARC has been weighed down by bilateral problems between India and Pakistan and a lesson probably has been learnt to keep bilateral troubles away from a regional grouping for better coordination among the members.

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