Six members of the regional economic grouping known as BIMSTEC have signed a free trade agreement, widely seen as a bridge connecting South Asia with Southeast Asia.
The name "BIMSTEC" was coined by taking the first letters of the founding member countries -- Bangladesh, India, Myanmar (or Burma), Sri Lanka and Thailand -- and adding "EC" to it for "Economic."
Bangladesh is the only member of the grouping which opted not to immediately join the Framework Agreement on Free Trade Area signed Sunday at Phuket, Thailand.
But Bangladesh Foreign Minister M. Morshed Khan said on Monday his country will sign the treaty soon, possibly before the next group summit, to be held in July.
Under the trade deal, BIMSTEC's more developed nations -- India, Sri Lanka and Thailand -- plan to abolish tariffs on each others' goods and services by 2012. That is five years ahead of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma and Nepal -- considered less-developed countries.
The free trade pact, if implemented, will encompass nearly two billion people in the region by the year 2017.