FTA, shipping links high on agenda
The Bangladesh-Pakistan annual foreign secretary-level consultations start in Dhaka today, with free trade agreement (FTA) and re-establishing direct shipping links between Chittagong and Karachi figuring high on the agenda.
Dhaka would also bring up the sensitive issue of stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh at the talks taking place after a two-year hiatus, foreign ministry sources said.
Pakistani Foreign Secretary Reaz Mohammad Khan will lead the Pakistan delegation in the fourth round of the talks. The last meeting was held in Islamabad in 2005.
Acting Foreign Secretary Touhid Hossain will lead the home side in the meeting.
Both Dhaka and Islamabad have been keen on signing a FTA to reinvigorate the flagging bilateral trade, which was $210 million last fiscal year, with Bangladesh suffering a trade deficit of around $100 million.
The BNP-led four-party alliance government had agreed to sign the FTA by September 2006, which aimed to raise the bilateral trade to $1 billion annually. However, the failure to meet over the past two years has prevented any meaningful progress on the deal.
The meeting would discuss the selection of the commodities under the trade pact, as well as eliminating existing non-tariff barriers (NTBs) between the two countries, foreign ministry officials said.
Bangladesh-Pakistan trade is dwarfed by Dhaka's trade with Delhi, which currently stands at over $2 billion.
The two sides will also look to re-establish direct shipping links between the ports of Karachi and Chittagong, which were cut off in 1987, foreign ministry officials added.
The officials and business communities of both the countries have been complaining for a long time that the absence of direct shipping between Karachi and Chittagong is one of the biggest obstacles to boosting bilateral trade.