Sushma Swaraj gears up for Nepal visit

Economic Times, 22 July 2017
Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj will travel to Nepal for the BIMSTEC foreign ministers meet on August 10-11, marking her first trip abroad after her kidney transplant.

The meeting will help prepare for the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit to be held in the Himalayan nation at the end of the year which will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Swaraj underwent kidney transplant last December at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences here. While recuperating in hospital, she was clearing files, holding discussions and even hosting her counterparts from across the world. Her last foreign trip was to New York in September 2016 for the UN General Assembly (UNGA) session.

People aware of the matter told ET that Swaraj, who has been attending office and meetings in Delhi regularly since early this year, may also travel to some other countries in the neighbourhood over the next few months. A visit to New York for the UN General Assembly meeting in September cannot be ruled out.

BIMSTEC has received top priority from the Modi government as a viable regional grouping vis-a-vis SAARC—which has been besieged by Pakistan’s intransigence—to approve key regional connectivity initiatives and counter-terror plans. India invited all BIMSTEC leaders for the outreach of the BRICS leaders at the grouping’s summit last October in Goa.

The BIMSTEC, which will complete two decades this year, received momentum following a plethora of initiatives undertaken by the group in less than one year. BIMSTEC plans to put in place a comprehensive Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) at this year’s summit. This mechanism will feed into Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal, or BBIN MVA. BIMSTEC will have all multi-modal features connecting member state Sri Lanka, which is connected to the rest of the six members of the grouping only through air or sea. These mechanisms are aimed at expanding India’s ‘Act East Policy’ outreach.

Intra-regional connectivity and the BIMSTEC process were key elements in the agenda of leaders of member states Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka who visited India earlier this year.
The BIMSTEC national security advisors, who met here earlier this year, have drawn up a comprehensive action plan to meet traditional and non-traditional security challenges in the region. BIMSTEC hopes to create a common security space — which SAARC failed to achieve in the past three decades — to deal with common security challenges.

A series of disaster management, business and trade-related meetings of the BIMSTEC member states are in the pipeline in the run-up to the summit. This include trade forum in Kolkata, Delhi and Guwahati over the next few months. The member states are also keen to promote tourism within the group and tap into unexplored sectors like cruise shipping and untapped potential of India’s north-eastern region.

Further, a recent study conducted by Jaipur-headquartered think tank CUTS international and BIMSTEC Secretariat based in Dhaka suggested that tourism corridors can be effective precursors to business corridors since regional tourism can help attract investment vis-à-vis building confidence among the political constituencies in the region.

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