Foreseeing sub-regional economic cooperation

Meet: Bhutan, Nepal, India and Bangladesh opted for a quadrilateral meet for the first time on January 30 to discuss areas of cooperation in water resources including hydropower, transit and connectivity.

Although the meeting reached no concrete decision, the director general of department of hydropower and power systems, Dasho Yeshi Wangdi, said it was a good forum to discuss various areas of cooperation to ensure economic development in the sub-region.

“Although many things were discussed in the SAARC forum, the implementation was quite slow, because there were many differences among the member states,” he said adding when it involves just four countries there aren’t many differences.

However, in case of cooperation in energy, he said the energy cooperation agreement that was signed during the SAARC summit in November last year would guide the discussions and implementation.

During the meeting, possibility of undertaking future hydropower projects in hydro-rich countries like Bhutan and Nepal involving at least three countries on an equitable basis was also discussed.

Currently, most hydropower projects in the country are government of India funded or public sector undertakings as such as Inter governmental, joint venture and public private partnership.

Dasho Yeshi Wangdi said neither the projects were identified nor the modality of implementation were discussed during the meeting.

“The meeting was just an exploration for us to listen and share some best practices,” he said. “We have excellent way of developing hydropower with government of India and if we had to involve other countries, the benefit will depend on the modality which is not discussed,” he said.

For instance, if Bangladesh, Bhutan and India want to invest in a common project, the benefits would be different if constructed under inter-governmental model and through a joint venture, which is not yet explored.

For the ongoing projects, he made it clear that there is no scope for other countries because agreements have already been signed which mandates Bhutan to export surplus power to India.

However, in future projects, it is up to the government to decide and approve.

While discussions on energy cooperation not only revolved around hydropower but also renewable energy and other sources, interconnecting the power grids in the sub-region was also discussed.

“All countries agreed that there is a need of common power exchange market,” Dasho Yeshi Wangdi said. “But before that there are many technical, legal and policy issues that needs to be harmonised.”

Bhutan shared its experiences on integrated river basin management and flood forecasting system with India. Bangladesh, he said was also interested in replicating such system and data sharing methods because it is also a down stream country.

Regarding the transit and connectivity, ideas on bus and cargo route between the four countries were also floated.

Meanwhile it was the second joint working group meeting although Nepal did not participate in the first one.  Officials from the economic affairs ministry are optimistic that something concrete would come out of the subsequent meetings.

 

By Tshering Dorji

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