Member countries of Bay
of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and
Economic Co-operation (BIMSTEC) approved by a secret
vote of three to two the setting up of its
Secretariat in Dhaka, Bangladesh delivering a
permanent blow to Sri Lanka’s five year struggle to
The decision was reached at the 13th Ministerial
Meeting of BIMSTEC held in Myanmar last Saturday.
The Lankan delegation was led by Deputy Minister of
External Affairs Neomal Perera and also included the
Ministry’s Economic Affairs director Sumith
According to sources, at the voting time, since both
Sri Lanka and Bangladesh had offered to host the
secretariat they had agreed to abstain from voting.
Foreign Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe said Dhaka had
an apparent advantage as all BIMSTEC member states
had a diplomatic presence in the capital city of
The suspicion is that Bhutan, which does not have a
diplomatic presence in Colombo, too may have voted
Jayasinghe said the meeting also decided to allow
Sri Lanka to be the first Secretary General of the
Deputy Minister Neomal Perera said in the run up to
the decision Bangladesh was the preferred country
because of its central geographic location vis-à-vis
its other members. And unlike originally planned the
Secretariat though technically the Headquarters of
BIMSTEC, will not be such big complex as it will
primarily serve as a communication centre for its
members to work from their respective countries. Its
secretary-general which is a rotating post, however
will be based there.
But critics charged that it was a clear example of
our failure to canvas the member countries in
“We can understand losing to a country like India
but we lost to Bangladesh because we had not
properly canvassed Buddhist countries that are in a
majority in the grouping”, charged one critic.
The new sub-regional grouping named BIST-EC
(Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand Economic
Cooperation) was formed on June 6, 1997.
The name was changed to BIMST-EC after Myanmar,
which attended the inaugural June meeting as an
observer, joined the organisation as a full member
at a Special Ministerial Meeting held in Bangkok on
December 22, 1997.
Nepal was granted observer
status by the second ministerial meeting of BIMSTEC
held in Dhaka in December 1998. Nepal along with
Bhutan was granted full membership of the
sub-regional body later in 2004.
In the past, Sri Lanka under various regimes also
lost chances of hosting any of the SAARC
The South Asian Association for Regional
Co-operation is the other major South Asian