Dhaka to renew goods transport deal with Delhi
The government yesterday approved renewal of the bilateral trade agreement between Bangladesh and India under which the countries will use their waterways, roadways and railways for transportation of goods between two places in one country through the territory of the other.
In another major step, a special cabinet meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the chair approved signing of a new treaty--Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPA)--to boost trade and investment with India.
BIPA seeks to promote and protect investments from either country in the territory of the other with the objective of increasing bilateral investment flows.
With BIPA signed, Bangladesh and India will consider each other as one's most favoured nation (MFN). Bangladesh has MFN status deals with 24 nations while India has BIPA with more than 60 countries.
Both the BIPA and bilateral trade agreement are expected to be signed between Bangladesh Commerce Minister Mohammad Faruk Khan and Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee during the latter's visit to Dhaka on Monday, commerce ministry officials said.
"We will sign more similar treaties that will bring welfare and development for the country and its people," Sheikh Hasina was quoted as saying by her Press Secretary Abul Kalam Azad.
Held at the Cabinet Division of the Secretariat, the meeting kept the articles and clauses of the bilateral trade agreement as it were in the past.
The agreement was first signed during late president Ziaur Rahman's rule on October 4, 1980, and was last renewed on March 21, 2006 between former finance minister M Saifur Rahman and India commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath in New Delhi. The treaty is renewed every three years.
Article 8 of the treaty reads, "The two governments agree to make mutually beneficial arrangements for the use of their waterways, roadways and railways for commerce between the two countries for passage of goods between two places in one country through the territory of the other."
However, there has been little headway in terms of implementing the agreement and the reason behind the failure of successive governments in nearly three decades is the issue of transit included in the agreement, which ultimately became a political issue.
Highly placed sources in the government said the present government is committed to executing the treaty this time.
If the treaty is implemented, not only India would be benefited in transporting goods to its north-eastern states but Bangladesh will also have huge economic boost by using the territory of India to reach Nepal and Bhutan.
Scope of trade and commerce between Bangladesh and India would expand and barriers to export to India would be removed with the renewal of the agreement and signing of BIPA, the sources said.
According to the proposed BIPA, it requires both the countries to encourage and create favourable conditions for investors of each other to make investments in their territory and to admit investments in accordance with their laws.
Investments from either country in the territory of the other have to be given a treatment that is not less favourable than what the country provides investments of its own investors or investors from any other country with.
"We will be able to increase the volume of our exports by exporting more goods to India under this treaty," Commerce Minister Faruk Khan told The Daily Star.
Asked about transit, he said, "We are not signing any treaty on transit. It is an India-Bangladesh trade agreement. A treaty regarding transit might be signed in the future for further expansion of business, if required."
Foreign Secretary Mohammad Touhid Hossain also told reporters that Bangladesh is not signing any transit deal during Pranab Mukherjee's visit. "This is basically a goodwill trip," he said.
A number of issues in the interest of Bangladesh, including duty- and quota-free access of Bangladeshi goods to India, removal of tariff barriers, maritime boundary and border demarcation and sharing of water of common rivers, will come up in the bilateral talks with Pranab.
Infrastructure development for smooth functioning of land ports and measures to reduce trade imbalance are likely to figure prominently in the talks between Pranab and Hasina, said government sources.
"Security is also an issue to be discussed during Pranab Mukherjee's visit because security is a common concern for both the countries," said the foreign secretary.
Reiterating its call for the government not to strike any deal without proper discussions, BNP yesterday said people will not accept any treaty against national interests.
“Discussions are a must before signing any deals on transit. The government must know what will protect the country's interests and what won't,” said BNP Secretary General Khandaker Delwar Hossain.
He was speaking at a meeting organised by Jatiyatabadi Jubo Dal, the party's youth wing.
In an oblique reference to India, he said, “It won't be acceptable to people if you [government] give everything for free to those who have brought you to power.”
Delwar came down hard on the government for withdrawal of the Special Security Force measures for BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, and asked the authorities to ensure her security.
The meeting was addressed among others by opposition chief whip Joynal Abedin Faruq, Goyeshwar Chandra Roy, Barkatullah Bulu, Moazzem Hossain Alal and Khairul Kabir Khokon.
Meanwhile, BNP's Vice-president MK Anwar last night told The Daily Star that Bangladesh had signed many treaties with India in the past, but most of them were not implemented due to the non-cooperation from the other side.
About the treaty signed during the BNP government, he said it was not implemented as both sides differed on different conditions.
Asked about transit, he said, “We have no objection to Indian goods being transported by Bangladeshi vehicles, but we won't accept if Indian vehicles are allowed to use our territory to carry goods from the country's [India] one part to another.”