In the post-COVID-19 era, the world may want to shift global manufacturing elsewhere. BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) nations would be ideally placed as alternate locations for this shift, said the union Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan, stressing the need for the regional cohort to develop adequate policies and environment to be able to best utilise the potential.
Though he did not mention China by name, it was clear that he was alluding to an alternative to the Asian giant, which is the global manufacturing leader. BIMSTEC’s member states include Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.
Speaking of the opportunities and growth that follow every downturn, the minister said, “The shock of the pandemic has, paradoxically, presented us with opportunities. One such opportunity has arisen due to the discourse, gathering momentum, of the requirement of diversification of manufacturing locations.” He said that “as we speak, trade routes and supply chains are being redrawn, as are business plans. As multinational enterprises diversify their manufacturing base to increase resilience and reliable supply chains, BIMSTEC countries have a window of opportunity. There is an increasing demand for alternate production locations in several supply chains.”
However, for BIMSTEC to be attractive as a hub, the member countries need to come up with policies of cooperation, and quickly, lest they miss the opportunity. BIMSTEC general secretary Shahidul Islam and Muraleedharan both emphasised that the grouping needed to establish a legal framework, starting with inking a coastal shipping agreement as well as the BIMSTEC motor vehicle agreement so that regional transport systems become smooth, ensuring the steady movement of material and products between partner nations. The minister added that in the present context, connectivity meant more than railroads and shipping routes; digital connectivity was crucial, as the ongoing pandemic has shown. “We have to move towards further integrating our digital networks to provide greater access, more affordable and high-speed internet connections and mobile communication to out peoples,” he said.
The two were participating in a webinar organised by the think tank Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) on revisiting economic cooperation in BIMSTEC in the post-COVID-19 era. Representatives of important think tanks from all the member nations participated in the session, sharing experiences about their experiences with the pandemic, their best practices as well as the potential for growth in the future.
Both Islam and Muraleedharan called for strengthening the activities of BIMSTEC economic and business forums.
Islam noted that economic growth was very important for this region as the loss of employment in the Gulf nations had brought several workers back home. He pointed out that the present pandemic would not be the last calamity to reduce the gains made by economic strides in the region—which is vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change. Agriculture, too would be regularly hit. There is a need, therefore, to collectively develops mechanisms for resilience to these events, he said.