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The present study is an attempt to explore the potentials for expanding trade and investment under the ambit of sub-regional cooperation comprising four contiguous countries of Eastern South Asia which includes the two fast growing economies -India and China and the two developing economies of Bangladesh and Myanmar (BCIM). The initiative to explore potential opportunities of cooperation in this sub-region, which came to be known as Kunming Initiative, is essentially a track-II endeavour. The major objective of this initiative is to promote economic cooperation among the countries of this sub-region by making best use of their comparative advantages. The idea is to realise the potential benefits accruing from the abundant natural, human and other resources, based on mutual complementarities, through deeper integration of the constituent economies of the BCIM sub-region.
The point of departure for the BCIM cooperation is that the Integration of these strategically located sub-regional areas, particularly the North-East India (NIE), Bangladesh, Myanmar and South West of China, constituting a natural economic zone, is perceived to have the potential to generate substantive economic benefits in the areas of trade, investment, energy, transport and tourism. The economic dynamism of India and China could also offer wide range of opportunities for growth and development in the region.
The earliest contacts between China and South Asia goes back to the days of the fabled ancient Silk Route, a trade channel that connected China with the outside world via the Southern (South and Central) Asian route. In the recent years interest has emerged for exploring the historic links between the countries and people of South Asia and the people of China. There is a manifest to establish closer bondage between Yunnan Province in South West China, North-East India and Bangladesh and Myanmar. Yunnan has a particular interest in reviving links with Assam as this could provide direct access to Indian and western markets, which otherwise would involve a 7,000-km detour via Hong Kong and Singapore. There is an understanding that Myanmar and Bangladesh too could reap the economic benefits through mutual cooperation based on reciprocal complementarities. Greater connectivity among these countries could open up opportunities for enhanced trade and investment utilising the comparative advantages of the respective members which has strong development implications for all, and in particular, the weaker parts like NEIs (North-East India) and Yunnan and countries such as Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Closer cooperation of Bangladesh with particularly the backward NEIs, under this cooperation arrangement, could play an important role in reducing the substantial bilateral trade deficit with India which has become increasingly visible in recent years. In view of this, the objective of this paper is to explore the potentials for expanding trade and investment cooperation among the member countries of the BCIM forum and the possible challenges that any possible envisaged cooperation could face.
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