The agenda includes deepening cooperation in security, connectivity, trade and investment
The 2nd BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers' Retreat is set to take place in New Delhi on July 11-12, 2024. Hosted by India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, the retreat will bring together the Foreign Ministers of the seven member states of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). This high-profile event aims to explore and enhance multifaceted cooperation among the member countries in the Bay of Bengal region.

The retreat provides a unique opportunity for the Foreign Ministers to engage in informal discussions on various critical issues. The agenda includes broadening and deepening cooperation in fields such as security, connectivity, trade and investment, and people-to-people contacts. This setting is expected to foster candid dialogues and strengthen mutual understanding among the member states, which include Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

A press release issued by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Wednesday (July 10, 2024) emphasised the significance of the retreat, stating, "The Retreat will present an opportunity for the Foreign Ministers of the BIMSTEC countries to discuss, in an informal setting, avenues to broaden and deepen cooperation across various sectors including in the fields of security, connectivity, trade and investment, people-to-people contacts, etc., in the Bay of Bengal region and littoral."

The first edition of the BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers' Retreat was held in Bangkok, Thailand, on July 17, 2023. That inaugural meeting laid the groundwork for this year’s discussions, highlighting the importance of continued dialogue and cooperation among the BIMSTEC member states. The Bangkok retreat was noted for setting a precedent in fostering a cooperative environment that goes beyond formal diplomatic engagements.

Bhutan's Foreign Minister DN Dhungyel and Myanmar's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister U Than Swe have already arrived in New Delhi to participate in the retreat. 

MEA Spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal highlighted the significance of these visits in strengthening bilateral and regional ties. He posted on social media platform X, "Warm welcome to @FMBhutan D.N. Dhungyel as he arrives in New Delhi for the BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers’ Retreat. The visit will further strengthen close bonds of friendship and cooperation between India & Bhutan and advance regional cooperation."

Jaiswal also welcomed Myanmar’s Deputy PM with a post stating, "Deputy PM & FM U Than Swe of Myanmar arrives to a warm welcome in New Delhi for the BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers’ Retreat. Productive discussions on strengthening regional cooperation for a prosperous, connected and secure Bay of Bengal region lie ahead."

For India, the BIMSTEC forum aligns seamlessly with its "Neighbourhood First" and "Act East" policies, providing a strategic platform to engage with its immediate and extended neighbors. India's proactive role in BIMSTEC underscores its commitment to fostering regional cooperation, connectivity, and economic integration.

In June 2024, External Affairs Minister Jaishankar extended his wishes on BIMSTEC Day, reaffirming India's dedication to a resilient and open BIMSTEC region. He stated, "Warm wishes on BIMSTEC Day! India reiterates its commitment to achieve shared prosperity through a resilient and open BIMSTEC region. May our time-honoured links grow even stronger."

The retreat is expected to address key challenges and opportunities in the region. Security discussions will likely focus on combating terrorism, maritime security, and transnational crime. Connectivity will cover infrastructure development, digital connectivity, and transport links to enhance trade and people-to-people ties. Economic cooperation will include discussions on enhancing trade, investment, and economic integration among member states.

The informal setting of the retreat is anticipated to facilitate open and frank discussions, enabling the ministers to address sensitive issues more effectively. This approach aims to build trust and foster a cooperative spirit among the BIMSTEC nations.

As the 2nd BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers' Retreat unfolds in New Delhi, it symbolizes a continued commitment to regional cooperation and collective progress. The outcomes of this retreat are expected to shape the future trajectory of BIMSTEC, driving development, security, and prosperity in the Bay of Bengal region.