Connectivity: The government does not want cargo vehicles from Bangladesh and Nepal to enter Bhutan to safeguard the interest of the transport industry.

This, according to officials, will be ensured through formulation of a protocol for implementation of the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) motor vehicle agreement, the main aim of which is to allow vehicles to enter each other’s territory.

The protocol, which is being worked out, has to be collectively agreed upon by the member countries. The protocol will specify the number of vehicles that will be allowed in the country and which routes they would take.

Information and communications secretary Dasho Kinley Dorji said one of the agreements Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal have already reached is not to allow passenger vehicles to operate into Bhutan anytime soon. This will be done through deferment of the clause related to passenger vehicles.

This means that no Bhutanese passenger vehicle will enter Nepal and Bangladesh as well. The agreement prescribes that passenger transportation between two of the countries will be operated on a reciprocal basis.

The secretary said cargo vehicles from Bangladesh and Nepal will stop at the border. However, this arrangement will not stop Bhutanese vehicles from plying into Nepal and Bangladesh.

However, this arrangement is still being negotiated and will be confirmed only when the protocol is finalised and adopted by the member countries. “The government is negotiating on behalf of the country,” he said.

The government is bent on ratifying the agreement in the upcoming Parliament session. But roadblocks are not yet cleared for the government as it will not be able to present the protocol along with the agreement in the upcoming session, without which the opposition party is not likely to support the agreement.

The secretary said the protocol is expected to be ready by next year only. The member countries need to work out further details of the protocol.

However, the current arrangement on trade and vehicles with India will remain the same.

Dasho Kinley Dorji said Bhutan would be at the losing end if ratification does not take place. “While ratification of the treaty is for the sub-regional cooperation, the protocol is for the actual trade park,” he said.

“By signing the agreement we will not be obligated,” he said, adding that the impact of the agreement will depend on the details of the protocol.

According to the agreement, the contracting parties will allow cargo vehicles for inter-country cargo including third country cargo and passenger vehicles for both hire and reward or personal vehicles to ply in the territory of another contracting country “subject to the terms of the agreement”.

All the vehicles will require a permit for plying through the other country.

In what could be objectionable for transport operators, the agreement provides for non-regular passenger vehicles to be permitted on a case-to-case basis for a period of up to 30 days. Transporter operators feel that this will kill their business.

However, the agreement also contains clauses that allow Bhutan to play better and safeguard its interests. The agreement states that a vehicle plying in the territory of one of the countries will have to use authorised routes through authorised immigration check points.

Such arrangements, though, will have to be worked out by mutual agreement. “Any deviation from the route will be treated as violation of the permit conditions and of the relevant customs laws of the contracting parties,” the agreement states.

Sector and the details of routes, location of permitted rest or recreation places tolls and check posts open for regular passenger or cargo transportation will be specified in the protocol. The number of vehicles plying on different routes will be fixed after mutual consultations.

Vehicles registered in one contracting country will not be permitted to operate transport local passengers and goods within the territory of another country. This clause is not likely to be relevant for Bhutan as it wants foreign cargo vehicles to stop at the border points so that Bhutanese would be able to transport imported goods within the country.

MB Subba