The inland water route, stretching from Indian territory through the Brahmaputra river till Mongla and Chittagong in Bangladesh, will soon be accessible to Bhutan.
The economic affairs secretary, Dasho Yeshey Wangdi said that the two countries will complete the process and finalise the protocol, to be readied for signing during the visit of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to Bhutan in April this year.
While Bangladesh gave the green signal for Bhutan to use its inland water transport routes for cargo back in 2012, the two countries were sharing and working on the draft Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and protocol thus far. The agreement was actually expected to be signed in 2012.
Dasho Yeshey Wangdi said that the two countries have been working on the draft MoU and the protocol for the past few years.
Till date, Bhutan has been using the Kolkata seaport for export and import of goods to third countries. The materialisation of this agreement would provide Bhutan with alternative sea routes.
However, the ports in Chittagong and Mongla is seen as feasible given the inland water connectivity thus reducing the time and cost of transportation.
The secretarial level meeting between Bhutan and Bangladesh held yesterday also decided to work on the MoU between the Bhutan Standards Bureau (BSB) and Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) to recognise each other’s standards and classifications.
The meeting, Dasho Yeshey Wangdi said, also decided to come up with an MoU between the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) and the agriculture ministry of Bangladesh to accept each other’s testing and certification. “It is a move to remove non-tariff barriers,” Dasho Yeshey Wangdi said.
The secretary in-charge of the Bangladesh commerce ministry, Shubashish Bose said that the two countries have immense potential in trade but not much has been explored. For instance, he said the two countries could make use of Bhutan’s hydropower potential.
Likewise private sectors in both Bhutan and Bangladesh are not able to explore the markets in each other’s territories.
To this effect Dasho Yeshey Wangdi said that the delegation from the governments of the two countries decided to facilitate cooperation and collaboration in the areas of tourism and those that require private sector engagement.
On the 16 additional products that Bhutan requested for duty free access for export, the Bangladeshi delegates asked the government to explore the possibility of entering into a preferential trade agreement.
The Harmonised System Code (HSC) for limestone products and calcium carbide were changed in 2016, removing those items from the list of duty free products. One of the agendas in the meeting was to change the HSC for these products, in order to avail duty-free access.
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. Total trade between the two countries has grown from Nu 1.98 billion in 2015 to 2.62 billion last year.