Prime Minister Manmohan Singh leaves for Myanmar on Monday to attend the BIMSTEC Summit where he is expected to make a strong pitch for giving a fillip to India's Look East policy and explore ways to enhance connectivity, transport, trade, tourism and other linkages to all the northeastern states.In what could be his last foreign trip as Prime Minister in this tenure, Dr. Singh is likely to use his two-day visit to renew contacts with leaders of the seven-member Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) which will hold its summit on 4th March in Myanmar capital Nay Pyi Taw.
BIMSTEC is an expression of India's Look East Policy of the 1990s, coinciding with Thailand's Look West Policy. The seven members-- India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal-- bring together over 20 per cent of the world population, which is about 1.5 billion, and a GDP of over USD 2.5 trillion.
A Framework Agreement for BIMSTEC Free Trade Area was signed in Phuket, Thailand in February, 2004, which commits the parties to negotiate FTAs in goods, services and investments. An agreement on Trade in Goods and other provisions relating to rules of origin, operational certification procedures and pact on Customs cooperation was finalised in June, 2009. India has exchanged its tariff preference schedules with member countries.
On 6 June 1997, a new sub-regional grouping was formed in Bangkok and given the name BIST-EC (Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand Economic Cooperation). Myanmar attended the inaugural June Meeting as an observer and joined the organization as a full member at a Special Ministerial Meeting held in Bangkok on 22 December 1997, upon which the name of the grouping was changed to BIMST-EC. Nepal was granted observer status by the second Ministerial Meeting in Dhaka in December 1998. Subsequently, full membership has been granted to Nepal and Bhutan in 2004.
In the first Summit on 31 July 2004, leaders of the group agreed that the name of the grouping should be known as BIMSTEC or the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation.