Commerce: Even as the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) motor vehicle agreement continues to face resistance from transport operators and the opposition party, no stones are being left unturned to make the sub-regional initiative a success.

President of the Federation of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), Abdul Matlub Ahmad, was in the capital last Friday to hold discussions on the upcoming BBIN seminar and business expo in Silliguri, and the areas of trade and investments between the two neighbors.

The seminar, which will be held from July 14 to 17, will serve as a platform to discuss the opportunities and challenges presented by the agreement.

While the other three countries have ratified the agreement, Abdul Matlub Ahmad said it is up to the Bhutanese people to recognise the benefits of the road agreement and make a decision.

Government officials and business representatives from the four countries will flock to Silliguri, where economic affairs minister Lekey Dorji has also been invited. The Silliguri meet is also expected to declare BBIN an economic zone.

The meeting will be a platform to raise issues and concerns in relation to the agreement by a member country, if it has any.

“All Bangladesh wants is that Bhutan should be able to use our ports for import and export of goods.” But for this to happen, he added Bhutan needs a motor vehicle and transport agreement.

On the Bhutanese government’s stand that cargo vehicles from Bangladesh and Nepal should not cross border points, he said, “Well we can keep our borders closed. We can keep them open as well.”

However, he added: “Look at Europe. Now you can drive from Italy to Sweden without having to stop.”

The FBCCI president said the main aim of the agreement was to enhance people-to-people contact and that it is based on trust. “Goods will be traded in any case,” he said.

“Bhutan is a country we want to trust and we want Bhutan to trust us,” he said. He said the region needs economic power. “But if the countries don’t trust each other, we remain poor.”

He expressed hope that Bhutan would support the sub-regional initiative.

The FBCCI president said BBIN is a “SAARC- formula”, which according to him, will help the four member countries achieve in economic terms that SAARC could not.

In the later stage, the BBIN plan to “go BBIN+”; meaning that ASEAN countries will be roped into the sub-regional cooperation group.

India, Nepal and Bangladesh have already carried out trial runs of cars and busses. “We want busses and cars to move in all the four countries,” he said.

While the three countries await ratification of the agreement, he said, the momentum on the business front should be developed.

He said the Bangladesh chamber is also planning to organise a Bangladesh-Bhutan trade show after the Silliguri meet.

The FBCCI is also planning to expand the areas of investments between Bhutan and Bangladesh. He said Bangladesh is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and that accordingly it wants to expand the trade volume with its neighbours.

“I have come here to tell the business community that Bangladesh is ready to not only receive you but also invest in your country,” he said. The president met business representatives and government officials.

Bangladesh wants not only to buy power but also invest in hydropower projects in Bhutan. “We are keen to invest in the Bhutanese power sector,” he said.

Only 10 percent of the total trade potential between the two countries has been exploited. “We want to explore the remaining 90 percent,” he said.

MB Subba