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BIMSTEC to jointly fight terror, handle financial crisis

Pressing for an early conclusion of free trade area among the BIMSTEC member countries, leaders of seven South and Southeast Asian nations Thursday finalized a pact on combating terrorism and agreed to intensify their cooperation in areas ranging from climate change, energy and food security to tourism, transport and culture.

At their second summit here, the leaders of India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar and Thailand, the countries that comprise the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), also mooted the idea of a regional food bank to help needy members states.

"An idea was mooted that countries pool their resources and set up a food bank for needy countries whenever necessary," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at a joint press conference at the end of the day-long summit.

The food security has acquired added importance in view of "the recent extraordinary volatility in fuel and food prices" that hits "hardest the poorest sections of population in these countries", said a joint declaration at the end of the summit.

The leaders agreed to set up a regional energy centre and a weather and climate centre in India and a cultural observatory in Bhutan, the declaration said.

They also decided to hold a ministerial conference on poverty alleviation in Nepal in 2009 and to establish a poverty alleviation centre in Bangladesh.

Underscoring the threat terrorism poses to peace, stability and economic progress in the region, the leaders finalized a BIMSTEC convention on combating international terrorism, transnational organized crime and illicit drug trafficking that will be signed later.

Alluding to the progress made in the talks for a free trade agreement, the leaders directed the BIMSTEC Trade Negotiating Committee to "conclude the negotiations on trade in goods as soon as possible, and to continue its efforts for agreements on services and investments".

The leaders also agreed that improved transportation and communication linkages and greater connectivity between member states would lead to increased trade and investment, tourism and people-to-people contacts.

Setting out an ambitious agenda for intra-regional cooperation, Manmohan Singh underlined the need for greater regional connectivity that could include the construction of a deep-water port to service the region.

Besides Manmohan Singh, Nepali Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Bangladesh chief adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed, Myanmar Prime Minister Thein Sein, Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat attended the summit.

The BIMSTEC leaders also pledged to share experience and increase cooperation to jointly face the current global financial crisis to minimize its impact on the region that has a combined GDP of $1.7 trillion and accounts for nearly one-fifth of the world's humanity.

IANS

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