Besides the Nu 45 billion assistance in the 12th Plan, the Indian government will also provide a transitional Trade Support Facility of Nu 4 billion over a period of five years to strengthen bilateral trade and economic linkages. 

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering, who is on a state visit to India said this is a wonderful gift to make Bhutanese trading systems more efficient, and make Bhutanese export products in general including industries more competitive in the long run through various trade facilitation measures. 

 “We’ll devise a mechanism which will benefit the country and the traders in the long run,” Lyonchhen said. 

Some areas of investment could be developing human resource, policy development, and digitalisation of the system, among others, Lyonchhen said. 

Finance secretary Nim Dorji said trade facilitation is one of the important elements to promote trade. 

 “Under the digitalisation of the system, one of the proposals is the establishment of the national single window which would simplify all trade transactions and promote trade facilitation,” the finance secretary said. 

After the implementation of the Indian Goods and Services Tax (IGST) in July 2017, Bhutanese products became more expensive for Indian importers. 

Foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji said there are certain sectors where IGST is not applicable. Bhutanese products could be more competitive in these sectors or products, therefore such sectors need to be explored, he said. 

 “For instance, the IGST is not levied on ferrosilicon, and organic agriculture and horticulture products and the exporters can benefit hugely,” the foreign minister said. 

Lyonpo said that the government will work closely with local industries and Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (BCCI) to find mechanisms and ways to see how it could better facilitate trade. 

 “The implementation modality of the fund is not yet finalised, thus we will sit with respective agencies and BCCI to find ways to support better trade,” he said. 

While Bhutan has requested for IGST exemption on exports from Bhutan, the Indian government has maintained that the exemption is not possible under Indian GST laws. 

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering thanked Prime Minister Modi for the invitation to visit India and for the warm reception accorded to him and his delegation. 

He recalled the unique and historical ties of friendship and understanding that exist between the two countries and that he looked forward to working with the Government of India to further strengthen bilateral ties.

The two sides discussed the Government of India’s development assistance package for Bhutan’s 12th Five Year Plan. 

At a press conference after the bilateral talks between the delegations yesterday, PM Narendra Modi said that this contribution would be according to the needs and priorities of Bhutan. 

 “I have assured the Prime Minister that as always India will play the role of a trusted partner and friend in the development of Bhutan,” PM Modi said.  

This is the same assistance India provided for the 11th Plan excluding the funding for the economic stimulus plan package of Nu 5 billion. 

PM Modi said that cooperation in hydropower projects has been an important component in the long history of India Bhutan relations. The two Prime Ministers reviewed the implementation of ongoing bilateral hydro-power projects in Bhutan and agreed to expedite their implementation. They reiterated their commitment to jointly develop 10,000 megawatts of hydropower generating capacity in Bhutan and in this regard discussed the Sankosh Hydropower Project. 

 “This is a matter of happiness that the work on the Mangdechhu project is going to be completed soon. We now have agreement also on the tariff of this project,” PM Modi said. 

The two delegations will hold another round of discussion today to finalise the power export tariff for Mangdechhu project and that there are lot of positive developments, Lyonchhen told Kuensel.

The two Prime Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to further strengthen co-operation in all areas of mutual interest and to take the bilateral partnership to newer heights.

PM Modi stated that in line with Government of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, India is firmly committed to partner Bhutan in its quest for development and economic prosperity based on the priorities of the people and the Royal Government of Bhutan. He congratulated the people and the Royal Government of Bhutan for the successful implementation of the 11th Five Year Plan including development projects undertaken with GoI assistance. 

PM Modi said that the ground station being built by Indian Space Research Organization in Bhutan is expected to complete soon which would benefit Bhutan in tasks such as weather information, telemedicine and disaster relief in the far-flung areas of the country.

“Prime Minister Dr Lotay has given me the good news that Bhutan government has decided to soon launch the RuPay cards,” he said. “I express my heartfelt gratitude for this decision. I believe that this will further strengthen people to people relations between the two countries.”

PM Modi also said that the leaders visiting each other as their first choice of destination was a symbol of the shared commitment towards strengthening the cooperation with each other to move forward on the path of development. 

“I believe that this visit of yours to India will be able to give a new pace to our relations.”

The two sides also discussed Bhutan’s priorities in the health sector.

After a ceremonial reception at the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering – quoting PM Modi from his speech in 2014 – said India and Bhutan are close not because the two have open borders but the two have opened their hearts to each other. 

 “I’m here with volumes of love, care and affection from my King and the people so please send me back with no less love and care,” he said. “We must everyday in our lives work towards strengthening the Indo-Bhutan relations and during my tenure, I would like to look forward to much greater heights.” 

This is Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering’s first overseas visit after assuming office in November 2018. The visit is taking place during the Golden Jubilee year of the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between India and Bhutan and is in keeping with the tradition of regular high-level exchanges between the two countries.

Lyonchhen will call on the President of India Ram Nath Kovind today. Lyonchhen called on the Vice-President, Venkaiah Naidu yesterday.

The External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Minister for Commerce and Industries Suresh Prabhu, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Power, New and Renewable Energy, Raj Kumar Singh and the National Security Adviser Ajit Kumar Doval called on Lyonchhen yesterday. 

The delegation returns today. 

Tshering Palden | New Delhi