GMC for BIMSTEC and beyond

As words of Bhutan’s Special Administrative Region (SAR), the Gelephu Mindfulness City (GMC) gains steam and momentum, it has become important for leaders within Bhutan’s proximity, especially members of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and others, to think of the roles they can play in the establishment of GMC, directly and indirectly, and ultimately the benefits that these countries can reap.

Consisting of seven nations, BIMSTEC is home to 1.8 billion people, which is about 22% of the world’s population, with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of US$3.6 trillion. The countries are not without problems. In the BIMSTEC region, more than 712 million people are identified to be food insecure. Current efforts at promoting agriculture and food security remain limited and insufficient to deal with the climate-affected, post-pandemic world.

In order to understand the importance of GMC and its promising future, we should firstly look at the establishment of a SAR. In the seven countries that make BIMSTEC, there isn’t any other country, where a SAR can be easily established. Due to political divisions and other factors a consensus can never be reached. Further, establishing a country with two different systems would be very difficult.

In this context, the emergence of Bhutan and His Majesty, King Jigme’s vision of the GMC deserves special recognition from countries that stand to benefit.

Because of the special status that GMC would hold, investors will be pulled in. What all Bhutanese and others ought to understand is that Singapore was not built by Singaporeans or the government of Singapore. Just as GMC, they began providing special status and incentives. And in 1908, Singapore had the first multi-national company (MNC) come in. It was Siemens, a German industrial company.

Others followed suit and in 1973, Roche, a Swiss biotech company with interests in pharmaceuticals and diagnostics, established base in Singapore.

The same year saw Thermo Fisher Scientific, an American manufacturer of scientific analytical instruments, laboratory consumables and chemicals move to Singapore.

Henkel, a German MNC focusing on adhesive technology and consumer goods and

Fujifilm, a Japanese corporation with business interests in healthcare, imaging, and materials for the semiconductor and display industries established themselves in 1983.

While we do not know, which MNCs would invest at GMC, the right conditions, beginning from the legal framework is being framed. His Majesty, King Jigme has visited several countries and spoken to diverse potential investors.

The benefits that will be accrued from the entry and operations of multinational corporations (MNCs) at GMC are both diverse and substantial. One of the most immediate and significant advantages is the creation of employment opportunities. MNCs, by their nature, require a large and diverse workforce to support their various functions and operations. This demand will lead to the creation of numerous jobs for Bhutanese citizens as well as expatriates, thereby reducing unemployment rates and providing a source of livelihood for many.

The influx of MNCs will also lead to increased capital flows into the country. These corporations bring in significant foreign direct investment (FDI), which can help bolster the national economy. This capital can be utilized for various developmental projects, infrastructure enhancements, and other initiatives that can further stimulate economic growth. The presence of MNCs can also lead to the modernization of financial systems and the introduction of new financial instruments, providing more options for investment and savings for the local population.

Moreover, MNCs often rely on local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to support their operations. This reliance can create substantial business opportunities for SMEs in the region. By engaging with these multinational corporations, local SMEs can benefit from increased demand for their products and services, leading to business expansion and growth. This relationship can also facilitate knowledge transfer, as SMEs adopt international best practices and standards required by MNCs, thereby enhancing their competitiveness and operational efficiency.

The integration of MNCs into the Bhutanese economy can also spur overall economic growth. With the establishment of these corporations, there is typically an increase in ancillary industries and services. For instance, the presence of an MNC may lead to the development of new infrastructure, such as transportation networks, communication systems, and utilities, which can benefit the broader economy.

Furthermore, the entry of MNCs can foster innovation and technological advancement. MNCs often bring with them advanced technologies, management practices, and expertise that can be disseminated throughout the local economy. This can lead to the development of new industries, the modernization of existing ones, and the overall enhancement of the country’s technological capabilities.

Further, BIMSTEC, with its diverse and rich natural resources, including vast agricultural lands, mineral reserves, and renewable energy sources, presents a unique opportunity for economic growth and sustainability. By tapping into these natural resources and implementing innovative, environmentally sustainable practices, member countries can boost their economies, create jobs, and reduce poverty. For instance, the development of renewable energy sources like solar and wind power can lead to energy security and reduced dependence on fossil fuels, contributing to environmental sustainability.

Human capital, comprising the skilled and unskilled workforce across BIMSTEC countries, is another critical asset. Countries could further invest in education, vocational training, and healthcare to enhance the productivity and well-being of the population, thereby driving economic growth. Initiatives that focus on improving literacy rates, higher education, and technical skills will equip the workforce to meet the demands of GMC.

GMC stands as a beacon for BIMSTEC countries, providing a platform to explore and implement strategies that leverage their natural and human capital. By participating in GMC, BIMSTEC countries can benefit from shared knowledge, resources, and market access, leading to collaborative growth and development.

However, BIMSTEC on its own cannot achieve its full potential without the unwavering commitment and proactive engagement of the leaders from its member states. The success of any regional cooperation initiative hinges on the dedication and strategic vision of its political leaders. In this context, it is crucial for the leaders of BIMSTEC countries to recognize and fully understand the immense opportunities that GMC provides.

For BIMSTEC to realize its ambitious objective of evolving into an influential and cohesive regional grouping akin to ASEAN, a concerted effort is required. GMC offers a comprehensive framework and a strategic pathway to achieve this goal. By embracing GMC, BIMSTEC can leverage a wide range of economic, social, and technological benefits that can significantly bolster its regional integration efforts.

There are projects under BIMSTEC linked to GMC, such as connectivity. These projects should be accelerated for the general interest of all member countries. While BIMSTEC has significant potential, its success is contingent upon the commitment and leadership of its member states. GMC represents a vital opportunity for BIMSTEC to achieve its vision of becoming a dynamic and integrated regional grouping like ASEAN. By fully embracing the GMC, BIMSTEC can unlock a plethora of economic, technological, and social benefits, paving the way for a prosperous and interconnected future for the region.

By Ugyen Tenzin, Thimphu