Building trans-regional co-operation enhances progress and prosperity across individual economies
July 30-31, 2004
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is a unique occasion. We, the seven Heads of Government from South and South East Asia meet at this Summit, manifesting our commitment to a regional group initiated by our host, Thailand. We come from regions that straddle ancient trade routes between Arabia and China. We are heirs to ancient civilizations, which have built common cultural, religious links between our Nations. This will surely serve as a lasting bond for our Group. We are all mindful of the opportunities and challenges the 21st century provides for trans-regional cooperation. In this context, I consider it my privilege to attend this meeting in Thailand.
My people and the people of Thailand have enjoyed close cultural affinities for centuries. We are once again touched by the famed Thai hospitality, which is so gracious. I take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to His Majesty, to Prime Minister Shinawatra and the Government of Thailand for the warm welcome and generous hospitality extended to me and my delegation, as well as for the excellent arrangements made for the Summit meeting. May I thank Prime Minister Shinawatra for the leadership he has provided to our Group.
The modest beginning we made with the establishment of the Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand Economic Co-operation Group to promote trade and economic activity in the region has now blossomed. We welcome three other friends from our region – Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan have joined us at different stages.
Our group brings together distinct parts of Asia, into a cohesive inter-regional unit linking SAARC, ASEAN and ACD among others. Consolidation and focus on practical and tangible projects have been the hallmark of our work. We are now meeting at the Summit level for the first time, at the city this group was inaugurated seven years ago. We have come a long way. Our track record has been good. But I believe we have the potential to do much more.
It is therefore, time to take stock of our achievements and map out a future strategy as well. When we initiated the group in 1997, we were mindful of our mutual interests and common concerns. We were encouraged by our cultural and economic complementarities and were convinced of the potential for common action that would contribute towards peace, progress and prosperity across the region.
We were conscious that in this inter-dependent and incessantly globalizing world, the economic well being of our peoples would be best attained by fostering greater understanding, good neighbourliness and practical cooperation among countries. This high-level Meeting today, represents our collective reaffirmation of those ideals, as much as our determination to translate them into real, cooperative ventures that will benefit our peoples.
Mr. Chairman, our countries are endowed with vast, precious and diverse resources; natural as well as human. The task of forging that diversity into an effective and dynamic unity now lies with us.
The structures of the Business forum, Economic forum as well as Senior Officials and the Ministerial level meetings including Trade and Economic Ministers, have served our Group well over the years. We have now reached a landmark by signing the Framework Agreement for a Free Trade Area. We are happy to see all member states on board.
Our countries are located in a fast track growth region of the world today. We are all variously capable of working in tandem to synergize our creative and productive capacities in order to ensure benefits to all our peoples. It requires careful nurturing and bold initiatives. For example, joint action can be taken to broaden the rules of origin criteria applied in GSP regimes to encompass both SAARC and ASEAN regions.
Can we also think of mobilizing Asia bond market resources for an infrastructure development fund for the region, to be managed by the interested Central Banks on a commercial lending basis?
Among other measures envisaged for action by our group, we are keen to device a facility to promote business travel among our people.
Sectoral Co-operation and specific projects must continue, with greater emphasis on a new order of self-help co-operation among us, based on our economic complementarities, with a view to sharing prosperity. This could be formulated on the concept that economic and social progress must touch each country and every city, and indeed every village in our region. As leaders of our countries, we have to be mindful of the wishes of our peoples. The overwhelming majority of our people still live in rural areas. We must ensure that the fruits of globalization and regional economic cooperation reach the village and every nook and corner of our countries. Growth without equity, where its benefits do not reach the periphery will neither be meaningful nor sustainable, as amply demonstrated by the voice of our peoples at recent elections in some of our countries.
Promotion of Small and Medium Scale Enterprises are also important as they can provide the basis for economic prosperity and social progress to the rural masses.
Mr. Chairman, Sri Lanka endorses your view that we must maximize our potential in biodiversity through cooperation and I am happy to note that BIMST-EC Ministers have accepted Sri Lanka’s proposal to host a meeting next year, on the protection of bio-diversity and its intellectual property dimension.
Let us therefore collectively commit to work for the benefit of the vast numbers of our rural populations, while we ensure robust growth of our economies. I hope this message will emerge loud and clear from the first-ever Summit of our Group.
I thank you.
President at BIMST-EC Summit Bangkok, July 30 – 31, 2004
President Kumaratunga was in Thailand to attend the BIMST-EC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sector Technical and Economic Cooperation) Summit, July 30 – 31, 2004.