What is the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC)?


  • BIMSTEC It is an economic bloc that came into being in June 1997 through the Bangkok Declaration.
    • BIMSTEC was initially formed with four member states- Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand on June 6, 1997.
    • Nepal became an observer state in 1998 and became a full-time member of the bloc along with Bhutan in February 2004.
  • Members – Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan.
  • Permanent Secretariat – Dhaka, Bangladesh


It aims to counter the onslaught of globalization by accelerating regional growth through cooperation by utilizing regional resources and geographical advantages.

Areas of cooperation

  • It is a sector-driven cooperative organization in which, initially, 6 sectors had been included:
    • Trade, Technology, Energy, Transport, Tourism and Fisheries
  • As of now, BIMSTEC has 14 priority areas of cooperation.
    • Climate change was added as the 14th priority area of cooperation in 2008.
  • Among these priority areas, a member country chooses which of the 14 priority areas it is willing to take the lead.
  • India is the leading country for Transport and communication, Tourism, Environment and Disaster Management, Counter-Terrorism, and transnational Crime.

Importance of BIMSTEC

  • Around 22% of the world’s population lives in the seven countries around the Bay of Bengal, with a combined GDP close to $2.7 trillion. 
  • All seven countries have sustained average annual rates of growth between 3.4% and 7.5% from 2012 to 2016. 
  • A fourth of the world’s traded goods cross the bay every year.

Growth of BIMSTEC as a regional forum

  • The grouping had been largely ignored until India gave it a renewed push in October 2016, a month after the terrorist attack in Uri. 
  • Alongside the BRICS summit in Goa, India hosted an outreach summit with leaders of BIMSTEC countries.
  • After the Uri attack, various countries supported New Delhi’s call for a boycott of the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit scheduled in Islamabad that November.

Significance of BIMSTEC for all member countries

Bangladesh views BIMSTEC as a platform to position itself as more than just a small state on the Bay of Bengal.

Sri Lanka sees it as an opportunity to connect with Southeast Asia and serve as the subcontinent’s hub for the wider Indo-Pacific region. 

Nepal and Bhutan aim to connect with the Bay of Bengal region and escape their landlocked geographic positions. 

For Myanmar and Thailand, connecting more deeply with India would allow them to access a rising consumer market and, at the same time, balance Beijing and develop an alternative to China’s massive inroads into Southeast Asia.

For India, the region’s largest economy, a lot is at stake. It is a natural platform to fulfil India’s key foreign policy priorities of Neighbourhood First and Act East.

BIMSTEC and assertive China

  • Battleground for India-China dominance
    • China has undertaken a massive drive to finance and build infrastructure in South and Southeast Asia through the Belt and Road Initiative.
    • It has done so in almost all BIMSTEC countries, except Bhutan and India.
    • BIMSTEC is a new battleground in the India-China battle for dominance.
  • Platform to counter Chinese investments
    • BIMSTEC could allow India to push a constructive agenda to counter Chinese investments and instead follow best practices for connectivity projects based on recognized international norms.
      • The Chinese projects are widely seen as violating these norms.
  • Open and peaceful Bay of Bengal
    • The Bay of Bengal can be showcased as open and peaceful, contrasting it with China’s behavior in the South China Sea. 
    • It could develop codes of conduct that preserve freedom of navigation and apply existing laws of the seas regionally.
  • Help stop the increasing military presence in the region
    • BIMSTEC could help stop the increasing military presence in the region by creating a Bay of Bengal Zone of Peace. 
    • This zone would aim to restrict aggressive actions by outside powers.