While India enjoys a favourable balance of trade, Bhutan’s export to India is growing faster than the growth of imports from India, the Indian commerce and industry secretary Rita Teaotia said.

“This is welcome,” she said.

The secretary is leading the delegation at the two-day Bhutan-India Bilateral meeting on Trade and Transit, which began yesterday in Thimphu. Economic affairs secretary Dasho Yeshi Wangdi led the Bhutanese delegation

She said India is also the destination for 78 percent of all Bhutanese export goods. Bilateral trade, she said, has grown by Nu 750 million in 2015-16 to Nu 817 million in 2016-17 and to Nu 909 million in 2017-18.

“This is a source of satisfaction that the volume of trade has continued to grow,” she said.

Dasho Yeshi Wangdi said that India has been the top trading partner for both import and export.

In 2017, bilateral trade between India and Bhutan was worth Nu 85.59 billion, which accounts for 82.07 percent of Bhutan’s total trade. Import from India was worth Nu 81.6 billion against an export of Nu 53.97 billion.

Dasho Yeshi Wangdi said that it is encouraging to see India’s growth has rebounded from the transitory shocks of the major structural reforms such as demonitisation and GST.

India is one of the fastest growing economies with a projected growth rate of 7.4 percent and 7.8 percent in 2018 and 2019 according to International Monetary Fund.

Rita Teaotia said there were apprehensions on adverse affects on Bhutanese exports to India with the introduction of the GST.

“The provision data that we have indicates that Bhutan’s merchandise exports to India have shown an increase during 2017-18 as compared to 2016-17,” she said.

There are eight permanent and one seasonal land customs stations, of which the one in Jaigaon handles 90 percent of Bhutan’s trade. The land port authority of India has proposed to develop an integrated check post at Jaigaon, which is expected to further boost trade between the two countries.

As requested by the Bhutan government, the government of India has notified two new trade routes and customs stations, one each in Rangapani in Assam and Birpara in West Bengal.

“We’re committed to further developing the trading infrastructure and to accommodate the requests made by Bhutan as far as possible so as to remove any impediments in the trade,” she said.

She said that India would be happy if Bhutan joins the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal movement of vehicular agreement as soon as possible.

A bilateral agreement on cooperation was also signed between the Bureau of Indian Standards and Bhutan Standards Bureau and information being exchanged to finalise the roadmap to implement the agreement, she said.

The food safety and standards authority of India recognises Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority’s certificates of goods for export to India.

She said that the tea estates across the border in India have raised concerns about the adverse effects from various activities in Bhutan including dolomite mining and the untreated effluence or discharge from the industrial estate in Pasakha polluting their tea estates.

The high level meeting will review the decisions taken during the last bilateral meeting on trade and transit held in New Delhi last January.

Dasho Yeshi Wangdi said that since the beginning of formal ties in 1968 relationship between the countries have grown stronger into an exemplary friendship envied by many.

The free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries stands at the heart of the relationship, he said. The free trade agreement continues to be the corner stone of Bhutan’s trade and economic relations with India.

“The world has more to learn from the FTA between India and Bhutan despite the two countries being geographically, demographically and economically very different,” Dasho Yeshi Wangdi said.

The trading relationship is covered under the ambit of the agreement of trade, commerce and transit.

The free trade agreement was renewed in November 2016 and implemented from July 2017.

Rita Teaotia said that the duty-free transit of Bhutanese merchandise for trade with third countries through designated entry and exit points in India has also helped Bhutan to develop its trading relations with other countries.

Tshering Palden