Bhutan and Bangladesh will soon sign an inland water route protocol. A secretarial level meeting between Bhutan and Bangladesh in Thimphu earlier this week decided to work on the memorandum of understanding between the Bhutan Standards Bureau (BSB) and Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) to recognise each other’s standards and classifications.

The transit route that will stretch from Indian territory through the Brahmaputra river till Mongla and Chittagong in Bangladesh will open vast trade opportunities for both countries.

For export and import of goods to third countries, the only port accessible to Bhutan has so far been Kolkata.

The agreement is expected to be signed during the visit of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh in April.

Looking back, it’s been a long journey to arrive at this stage. Even though Bangladesh was ready to include Bhutan in the tri-nation team to increase the navigability of a river transit route, it took the two countries five years to work on a draft memorandum of understanding. Progress thus far made deserves to be commended because the ports in Chittagong and Mongla are very much feasible given the inland water connectivity. What this means is the trading partners will be able to save time and reduce costs of transportation.

The significance of this agreement is important for the two countries in the light of the possibility of immense trade potential that remains to be explored.

The bilateral trade agreement between the two countries was first signed in 1980. Bangladesh is the only country with which Bhutan has a trade surplus. Last year, total trade between the two countries grew to Nu 2.62 billion from Nu 1.98 billion in 2015.

As yet, private sectors in both Bhutan and Bangladesh are not able to explore the markets in each other’s territories.

Tourism is another area that the two countries can immensely benefit from. In the larger perspective, what this could result in is regional economic integration in South Asia.