New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will today leave for Myanmar, which is likely to be his last foreign visit as PM. Dr Singh will head to Myanmar's capital Nay Pyi Taw for the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Summit on Tuesday.
At the summit, the Prime Minister is expected to make a strong pitch for giving a fillip to India's Look East policy and explore ways to enhance connectivity, transport, trade, tourism and other linkages to all the northeastern states.
He will also use his two-day visit to renew contacts with leaders of the seven-nation group.
BIMSTEC is an expression of India's Look East Policy of the 1990s, coinciding with Thailand's Look West Policy. The seven members - India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal - bring together over 20 per cent of the world population, which is about 1.5 billion, and a GDP of over US $2.5 trillion.
"One cannot underestimate the potential of BIMSTEC in bringing the fruits of these cross connectivity linkages to the northeastern states," Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh said ahead of the visit.
"It is in our interest to make sure that our northeast does not fall behind, that it develops as well in a manner that is commensurate to its potential so that when the connectivity happens and the roads and everything else gets connected, we are able to develop in parallel if not faster and exploit the potential," she said.
With some sticky issues still to be resolved, it may take some time for the grouping to wrap up a free trade pact.
"FTA negotiations are processes that take time. The BIMSTEC negotiation is particularly complex because it already encompasses countries which have FTA under the SAFTA process, and then you have other countries that belong to ASEAN. Taking all this into account, we have to arrive at an outcome that is optimal for India as well as for them. So, this is going to take some time," she said.