Bilateral trade to grow 15pc as Dhaka-Thimphu sign PTA
Bilateral trade between Bangladesh and Bhutan will grow by 15 per cent every year after the two countries struck a preferential trade agreement (PTA) yesterday to give a boost to commerce and connectivity.
Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi and Bhutanese Economic Affairs Minister Lyonpo Loknath Sharma signed the agreement at the State Guest House Sugandha in Dhaka, in the virtual presence of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Bhutanese counterpart Lotay Tshering.
This is Bangladesh's maiden PTA with any country.
"The bilateral trade between the two countries will grow by 15 per cent every year thanks to the agreement," Munshi said after signing the deal.
Under the agreement, 100 products from Bangladesh will enjoy the duty-free benefit in the Bhutanese market. Bangladesh would extend the similar privilege to 34 Bhutanese items.
The goods from Bangladesh would include garment items, fruit juices, particle boards, potatoes, cement, biscuits, cosmetics, sugar, jute or coconut fibre carpets, footwears, corrugated iron sheets, iron rods, cables and dried fishes.
Some of the major goods of Bhutan that will be eligible for the benefit are milk, natural honey, cement clinkers, soap, mineral water, portland cement, ferrosilicon, wheat bran, boulder stone, dolomite, gypsum, calcium carbonate, apples, pears, cabbage, cauliflowers, orange, seed potatoes, dried chillies, and cardamom.
There is a provision in the PTA that the two countries can increase the number of trading items in the future, Munshi said.
With the signing of the deal, Bangladesh entered a new era as it has to ink many trade agreements to protect the trade benefit after it graduates to a developing country in 2024 from the least developed country grouping.
Munshi said the Chilahati-Haldibari railway route would start functioning soon to establish a railway link to boost connectivity between Bangladesh and Bhutan.
"The PTA will create new opportunities and take the relationship to a new height," said Sharma.
Bangladesh is the first country in this region with which Bhutan has signed a fully functional for trade, he said, adding that the private sector of both countries appreciates the PTA.
Waterways and railways connectivity between India and Bangladesh will provide additional convenience to the trade between Bangladesh and Bhutan, the Bhutanese minister said.
Dhaka has assured Thimphu of additional ports of calls between Chilmari and Narayanganj to carry their goods to destinations at nominal costs.
For that, the upcoming railway links between Agartala of India and Akhaura of Bangladesh will provide additional access to Bangladesh.
The government of India has approved Agartala as an additional land customs station for Bhutan, and Bangladesh has also assured providing access to Tripura, Sharma said.
"Similarly, we are looking forward to adding access to and from Haldibari of India and Chilahati of Bangladesh through railway link. Railways, waterways and road transport all are very important for us to connect."
Lotay Tshering said Bhutan always places high importance on bilateral trade with Bangladesh.
"A new era of prosperity has opened up because of the signing of the PTA," he said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the PTA would further consolidate the relations between the two countries for mutual benefit, according to state-run Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha.
Tandi Dorji, foreign minister of Bhutan, said Bangladesh and Bhutan shared common goals over the last five decades.
Bangladesh has a significance as it is the second-largest trading partner of Bhutan, he said.
AK Abdul Momen, Bangladesh's foreign minister, said: "We might have different ways and means, but we share common goals -- economic and social development goals. The PTA signing carries the significance of common goals of the two countries."
Md Jafar Uddin, commerce secretary of Bangladesh, said the PTA would help address the challenges related to trade privileges once the country graduates to a developing country.
The agreement came into effect immediately.
The bilateral trade balance tilts towards Bhutan as Bangladesh is an importer of stones used in the construction sector.
In the fiscal year of 2018-19, Bangladesh exported goods worth $7.56 million and imported goods worth $42.09 million, according to data from the commerce ministry.