Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s three-day visit in the country was a success, foreign minister Damcho Dorji said at a press conference yesterday.

The Prime Minister unveiled the foundation stone plaque for the construction of the Bangladesh embassy at Hejo yesterday morning. His Majesty The King, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay and other senior government officials were present at the ceremony.

During the event, the foreign ministers of Bhutan and Bangladesh signed an agreement between Bhutan and Bangladesh on the Allotment of User Right of land under Hejo Samtenling LAP. Through the agreement, Bhutan grants Bangladesh User Rights of the land measuring 65,340 sq ft or 1.5 acres for construction of the Bangladesh embassy. The Deed for the User Right of the land between the two governments was also signed at the event between the Bangladesh ambassador and National Land Commission secretary Pem Chewang.

In 2014, Bangladesh granted Bhutan land measuring 321.895 sq. metres in Baridhara Diplomatic Enclave, Dhaka for the construction of the Bhutanese embassy in Bangladesh.

PM Sheikh Hasina together with Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen inaugurated the three-day International Conference on Autism and Neuro Developmental Disorders yesterday.

Bhutan and Bangladesh signed four MoUs and three agreements including the User Rights agreement for the embassy land. The two governments held a bilateral meeting on issues of trade, culture, agriculture, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN) motor-vehicle agreement.

Lyonpo Damcho Dorji said progress on the tripartite hydropower project has reached a final stage with numerous draft MoUs exchanged between the countries. “We’ve more or less come to an understanding on the trilateral MoU for production of hydropower,” he said.

The issue was also discussed during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India earlier this month.

“This MoU will be signed at an appropriate time when the leaders of the three countries meet and we’re hopeful that it will get through and contribute immensely to cross border export of electricity in the region especially in the BBIN region.”

However, Lyonpo said that the MoU discussed at present is broad with details yet to be worked out. A steering committee formed under this MoU will discuss the details such as the modality of power export.

“Bhutan had several discussions with Bangladesh and India and is very keen to export electricity to Bangladesh,” Lyonpo said.

The BBIN, Lyonpo said, is a good initiative. “The BBIN motor-vehicle  agreement is very important for connectivity in the region, which is one of the non-tariff barriers for trade,” Lyonpo said. He said the region is way behind in trade compared to the ASEAN region. The net worth of inter-trade in the region is five percent of the trade by SAARC countries with others.

“For Bhutan, a landlocked country, we know the value of connectivity,” the minister said. “Therefore, we have been supportive of the BBIN agreement.”

However, Lyonpo said the public and the parliamentarians had some serious concerns because the implementation of the BBIN motor-vehicle agreement could result in seeing a huge influx of vehicles including passenger cars. But Lyonpo said there are certain provisions in the agreement and protocols, which will protect the interests of the respective countries.

The minister said that infrastructure concerns include damage to environment, waste management and extra import of fuel, which is already a burden on the national exchequer.

Bhutan also reiterated its interest to establish a third gateway for internet connectivity from Bangladesh during the bilateral talk with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. “As Bhutan is developing its ICT, there will be huge requirement for quality international broadband,” Lyonpo said.

In trade, Lyonpo said Bhutan exempted 90 products from Bangladesh and the latter exempted import duty on 18 products from Bhutan. Bangladesh is the only country with which it has a trade surplus. In 2016, Bhutan exported goods worth Nu 2.3 billion and imported goods worth Nu 268 million.

“We have assured the government of Bangladesh that we’ll explore ways in which we can increase imports so as to ensure there is no substantial trade difference between the two countries,” he said. “We’re also discussing import duty exemption for 16 products with Bangladesh.”

Bangladesh and Bhutan established diplomatic relations on April 12, 1973.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina leaves today.

Tshering Palden