BBIN: Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that while he accepts and respects the wisdom of the House of Review, he is hoping the National Assembly (NA) and National Council (NC) members can sit together and discuss the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) trade agreement.

This comes after the NC, on November 15, rejected the BBIN agreement after the majority of its members voted against passing the agreement.

Claiming there is a misunderstanding on what BBIN means, Lyonchoen said BBIN would actually regulate traffic. “People have misunderstood BBIN as large scale of unregulated traffic in Bhutan. There is a misunderstanding because I have heard people say that we will be flooded with vehicles, people, pollution and garbage. That is a huge misunderstanding.”

He also said that the BBIN agreement and protocol states that four countries are going to work together. “The protocol outlines how many numbers of vehicles and which routes to be taken,” he said.

However, Lyonchoen also said that the government made it clear during the protocol discussion that Bhutan is not ready for anything with Bangladesh and Nepal. “With India, we are just continuing with the same bilateral agreement.”

He added the very purpose of BBIN is to control and set how many vehicles will be allowed into Bhutan. However, Lyonchoen said that discussion with Bangladesh and Nepal has been currently deferred.

Lyonchoen said that when the NC turns down the agreement, it means it is against the national interest. “If it is, I don’t understand how,” he said. “It is not going to change anything except the status quo as any change will go through the Parliament.”

He said that if the NC is correct, the government will have to stand corrected. “That is the purpose of the House of Review,” he said. “But perhaps if there has been a misunderstanding or perhaps if we can work on the protocol and give assurance and if the NC feels it is good for the national interest, we can work forward.”

He also said the government is pushing BBIN because it is not just about motor vehicles but about energy, trade, information, communication and technology, and other forms of regional cooperation. “The government thought about it very carefully and we are still committed to BBIN,” Lyonchoen said.

Explaining how Bhutan would lose if the ratification does not come through, the Prime Minister said that since BBIN is about four neighbouring nations working together, Bhutan loses the opportunity to work with Nepal and Bangladesh. “Our cooperation with India is very good but there is lots we can do with the other two neighbours.”

Citing energy as an example, Lyonchoen said if Bhutan wants to export energy to Bangladesh, India has to be involved and that is where BBIN matters. “If we want to bring in bandwidth from Bangladesh, it has to come through India. So this is why BBIN is important.”

He also said BBIN is very significant for a landlocked country and its neighbours become very important. “This is one agreement in which all three of our neighbours come together in one framework of cooperation,” Lyonchoen said. “If this does not come through, we will lose out many possibilities.”

Sharing the draft protocol, Lyonchoen also explained the whole purpose of the protocol is to regulate the number of vehicles, as it specifies how many vehicles will be allowed into the country and the maximum duration. “In Bhutan’s case, we have nothing new.”

Tashi Dema