The government has decided to expand the airport in Saidpur for Nepali flights to improve connectivity, trade and tourism with the South Asian Himalayan nation.
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen revealed the plan after meeting with his Nepali counterpart Pradeep Kumar Gyawali at the Meghna State Guest House in the city yesterday.
"Now a technical committee will be formed to assess what kind of flights can land and take off from there," Momen told reporters.
A Nepali delegation, led by Gyawali, arrived in Dhaka Monday on a three-day visit. During the meeting yesterday, the two sides discussed ways of improving trade and commerce, connectivity, tourism, energy cooperation etc.
"We are expanding the Saidpur Airport. Currently, 12-14 flights are operated there daily. So, people can come to Dhaka easily," Momen said.
Bangladesh Ambassador to Nepal Mashfee Binte Shams told The Daily Star that presently there are flights between Dhaka and Kathmandu, but Bangladesh wants to turn Saidpur Airport into a regional one. The government is working to upgrade it into an international airport.
The Saidpur Airport is only around 15 minutes from Nepal's Bhadrapur and Biratnagar airports. The people in Bangladesh's northern districts can travel to and from Nepal with significantly lower cost and time if Nepalese flights can operate from Saidpur Airport, she said.
Similarly, Nepalese or international tourists too can use the air route from Nilphamari's Saidpur to Nepal and vice versa, Mashfee said.
However, technical details need to be worked out, especially the types and commercial viability of flights to be used on the route, she said, adding that the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh will be conducting those assessments.
The Nepali foreign minister said that though Bangladesh and Nepal are good friends and have immense potential for enhancement of trade and connectivity, they could not be used fully.
The present trade volume hovers around $50 million, with Bangladesh exporting some $40 million to Nepal and importing around $10 million.
Gyawali said Bangladesh and Nepal will form a taskforce to review the present status of connectivity and trade between the two countries and recommend ways to improve it.
A draft preferential trade agreement and a bilateral agreement on investment are under discussion.
About an agreement between Bangladesh and Indian company GMR Upper Karnali Hydropower Limited, the Nepali minister said the company is going to start construction of a hydropower plant in Nepal, and Bangladesh can import 500MW power in five to six years.
Momen said there are some hindrances in trade and commerce, including high tariffs that need to be reduced. Both the sides agreed to work on it.
Bangladesh wants to improve tourism between the two countries, as well work together to bring in more international tourists, he added.
At a discussion on Nepal-Bangladesh relations organised by the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) later in the day, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam said there can be packages prepared by both Bangladesh and Nepal that can provide reduced prices for visiting both countries.
In that case, the international tourists coming to Nepal for mountain hiking can also visit the sea beaches of Bangladesh, he added.
Mashfee Binte Shams told The Daily Star that once the Motor Vehicle Agreement among Bangladesh, India and Nepal is implemented, connectivity via road and use of the Mongla and Chattogram ports by the three countries will be significantly increased.