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Bangladesh to consider issues on northeast India

The Bangladesh Government has agreed to consider and resolve all connectivity issues between Northeast & East of India and Bangladesh and called for stronger economic relationship between the two countries. This was discussed during the meeting with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh in Dhaka today. A high-level Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) team, led by President Sanjay Budhia, met Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today in Dhaka. M.K. Saharia, Chairman of ICC North East, Senior Member O.P. Dhanuka, and ICC Director General Dr. Rajeev Singh were part of the team. The delegation congratulated the Bangladesh Prime Minister on assuming charge, and expressed sincere hope that India-Bangladesh relations will receive a tremendous boost after the coming to power of the new Govt. under her able leadership.

It was felt that there is a lot of scope for further improving Indo-Bangla bilateral economic relations, and there would have to be concerted long-term efforts for taking bilateral relations to the next level. Discussions revolved around key issues like; Specific measures by Bangladesh Govt to increase the usage of Chittagong and Mangla port by Indian Copmpanies ; Trade facilitation through setting up world-class integrated facilities at Land Custom Stations like Petrapole ; developing softer borders and regularising trade exchanges ; improving connectivity and infrastructural links by upgrading railway network and highways.

The ICC Delegation offered to set up a SEZ to attract Investment from India and assured of an investment of US$ 5 Billion from India and requested for a suitable plot of 150 acres of land. President Budhia emphasised that Direct Investment can, and is the only route to counter the imbalance in trade. Massive investment from ICC members will create surplus capacity which will not only improve availability of manufactured goods and basket of goods for re-export to India but will create capacity for the market of Bangladesh thereby reducing import and also target specific exports to third countries. The Bangla PM while welcoming such a proposal commented that this would also help in employment generation, revenue earning and assured of positive action on ICC’s proposal.

M. K. Saharia, Chairman of ICC North East mentioned that people of North East have tremendous regard for, confidence and faith in Hon’ble Hasina, and the future of North East people are interlinked with the development of Bangladesh and raised some specific issues of North east including connectivity. O. P. Dhanuka, senior member of ICC, commenting on the similarities and synergy between the two Countries offered assistance in the matter of multi-modal transport to ease the Dhaka traffic problem.

ICC also suggested opening of a Deputy High Commission office at Guwahati or Shillong. The suggestion was received very positively by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister responded very positively to the suggestion of ICC to open a consulate office in view of strategic location of Bangladesh in relation to Northeast India to facilitate several specific locational issues including visa. While stating that Bangladesh is working on product specification, upgradation in consultation with BIS, the Prime Minister urged ICC to take-up the issue of delay in certification for Bangladesh exports and lack of testing facilities in Northeast with the Govt. of India.

ICC suggested intra-regional power grid to facilitate power evacuation from different parts of the region for easing the power situation. Given the fact that Kolkata is the Gateway to the South and South-East Asian markets, ICC strongly suggested that states like West Bengal, and also the North-Eastern states have a huge role to play in taking India-Bangladesh trade relations to a higher growth trajectory. The Prime Minister agreed with the ICC’s views and invited ICC to take the lead and support the process of economic development of Bangladesh.

During the visit, the ICC team also met Dilip Barua, Industry Minister of Bangladesh and the Industry Secretary and discussed issues related to Indian FDI in Bangladesh. The ICC team lauded the recently concluded treaties particularly Bilateral Investment Treaty BIPA which is likely to provide immense opportunities for FDI from India particularly  in sectors like health care, telecommunication, fertilisers, energy and power generation among others, and now provides great opportunity to Bangladesh Entrepreneurs to invest in India particularly in North East India. It was agreed to set-up a Joint Working Group between Ministry of Industry of Bangladesh and ICC for investment facilitation and review. The working group will also examine various issues related to border trade and submit suitable recommendation to both the Governments. The Industry Minister urged ICC to take up the matter of removal of non-tariff barriers for export of commodities to India. The Minister also agreed to visit Kolkata and North Eastern States during July or August to carry forward the process of trade and investment facilitation.

It was also discussed that after commissioning of the Kaladan project targeted to be completed on schedule, and the East West Corridor through JMB, the North East India along with Bangladesh would have to play a major role to the economic integration of South Asia.

Moreover, the ICC Team felt that sectors like Steel, Textile & Ready made garments, Oil & Gas, Coal, Limestone and Forest-based Industries like Paper, Export of plantation crops, Spices, Fruits, Vegetables, Flowers, Herbs and Processed Foods are also some of the areas which can drive a stronger bilateral economic relationship in the near future, and thus both the countries must put in concerted efforts in promoting 2-way trade and economic exchanges in these areas/ sectors.

Earlier the ICC delegation also had meetings with India Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce (IBCC) and Federation of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce & Industry (FBCCI). It was agreed to exchange business delegations to explore the possibilities of trade & investment between Bangladesh and East & North East of India.

The Chairman of ICC, North East Initiative, M. K. Saharia also suggested opening of border trade at additional points along the North East India-Bangladesh border and including setting up of border haats, particularly through Tripura, Barak Valley in Assam and Mizoram; Easing of visa requirements for border population via North East India-Bangladesh border (Both India and Bangladesh side) through allowing business purpose movements with permanent photo identity permissions; development of two Master Warehouses for container movement, one at North East India side preferably somewhere near Tripura-Bangladesh border or Meghalaya-Bangladesh border (which is more conducive as it is near Guwahati)  in India side and other near Dhaka at Bangladesh side; and establishing air connectivity between Dhaka and Guwahati for the promotion of bilateral trade.

The Indian Chamber has concrete long-term plans and programmes aimed at improving Indo-Bangla relations, and today’s visit paved the way for relevant future endeavours.    April 2009

Photo Caption: (L to R): Mashuir Rahman Economic Affairs adviser to PM, Muhammad Faruk Khan commerce Minister, PM of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina,  MK Saharia, Chairman, NE Regional Council, ICC, OP Dhanuka, Sr. Member, ICC, Dr. Rajeev Singh, Director General, ICC, and Nakib Ahmed, Advisor, ICC-NE

Text & Photo Source: Indian Chamber of Commerce