The BIMSTEC [Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation] has set 2019 as a deadline to make FTA [free trade agreement] operational.
Sources said member countries of the bloc reached a consensus in the latest meeting of BIMSTEC trade negotiation committee that ended in Dhaka on Monday.
The BIMSTEC comprises seven member states lying in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal, constituting a contiguous regional unity.
Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand are the members of the multi-sectoral group formed in 1997.
"The member countries have agreed to submit the 'schedule of commitment' by February 28, 2019," a senior official of BIMSTEC secretariat said on Tuesday.
It will be followed by trade and economic ministerial meeting the same year to introduce the FTA, he told the FE.
The schedule of commitment includes list of products for fast-track elimination, normal-track elimination, normal-track reduction and negative list.
The BIMSTEC members also reached a consensus that the negative list could be revised for only 10 per cent of the products.
It was learnt that a major breakthrough about 'trade in goods' was made during the meeting.
All the countries agreed to consider the 2017 prices as base rates for tariff concessions.
India proposed a new draft on product specific rules (PSR) based on 2015, but other countries opposed it, meeting sources said.
It was decided that the general modalities of the FTA will be based on the 2011 document unless there are any unavoidable circumstances.
According to experts, the FTA implementation can help the intra-BIMSTEC trade grow up to $240 billion from the existing estimated size of $40 billion.