Nima Wangdi 

To help Bhutanese exporting commodities to Bangladesh overcome hurdles they face on the way today, Bhutan is exploring railway links to Bangladesh through India.

The recently restored Haldibari-Chilahati railway link between India and Bangladesh is the potential route, according to officials at Royal Bhutan Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

People exporting goods from Bhutan to Bangladesh by road faced multiple hurdles on the way starting from the point they entered India till they reached Bangladesh.  These problems comprise mostly informal tax collections on the way.  The problems, besides being time consuming, also lead to destruction of perishable goods like oranges and apples.

Officials said that there were no problems at the government level but people posed endless problems.  Bhutanese exporters complained but governments could not do much about it.

An official explained that loads also have to be shifted from one truck to another at Indian-Bangladesh borders at the moment.

Trade attaché with the Royal Bhutan Embassy in Dhaka, Kencho Thinley, said a railway link connecting Bhutan to Bangladesh through India should not only address hurdles that exporters face but also cut down transportation time and cost.

He said the embassy was working towards finalising a transit agreement between Bangladesh and Bhutan soon.

The 35km Haldibari-Chilahati railway line was restored and reopened after 55 years of closure.  Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina jointly inaugurated it in December last year to boost railway connectivity between the two countries.

The railway was closed following the 1965 conflict between India and Bangladesh, the then East Pakistan.  Before 1965, there were seven cross-border lines between the two countries.  Haldibari-Chilahati railway link is the fifth to be reinstated.

Bhutan exports 34 products, which include mainly orange and apple according to the Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA), which was signed on December 6 last year.

Officials say people in Bangladesh are interested in growing products in Bhutan by themselves. “As the foreign direct investment (FDI) policy 2019 approves smaller FDIs, land will be leased out to the interested FDI local partners,” an official said.

Embassy officials also said that the railway route should help both countries in terms of export and import of goods. “As listed under PTA, Bhutan can export gallons of drinking water to Bangladesh by railway,” an official said.

Exploring railway connection between Bangladesh and Bhutan through Haldibari-Chilahati was also highlighted during the bilateral talk between Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering and the Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheik Hasina during lyonchhen’s recent visit to Bangladesh for the celebration of 50th independence day of Bangladesh.

With the signing of the PTA, 16 more products from Bhutan will enjoy duty free access to Bangladesh, in addition to the existing 18 products.  Likewise, 10 more products from Bangladesh will enjoy duty free access to Bhutan in addition to the existing 90 products.

Goods that will get duty-free to Bangladesh include orange, apple, ginger, fruit juice, milk, natural honey, wheat or meslin flour, homogenised preparations of jams, fruit jellies, marmalades, food preparations of soybeans, mineral water, wheat bran, quartzite, cement clinker, limestone, wooden particle boards, and wooden furniture.

Meanwhile, goods from Bangladesh that Bhutan will be given duty-free access include baby clothes and clothing accessories, garment, jute and jute goods, leather and leather goods, dry cell battery fan, watch, potato, condensed milk, cement, toothbrush, plywood, particle board, mineral and carbonated water, green tea, orange juice, pineapple juice, and guava juice.