Business proposals flew and the contagious enterprising mood got the economic affairs minister approving a proposal on the spot

Conclave: More than five business proposals and funding were pitched one after another as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, urged delegates to come up with concrete outcomes from the two hours Business Conclave yesterday in Thimphu.

Energised by the Chief Minister’s commitment to intensify trade relation between West Bengal and Bhutan, the economic affairs minister, Norbu Wangchuk approved then and there a proposal from Graphite India.

Addressing the Chief Minister as “Mamata didi” Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said the country is open to business and highlighted Bhutan’s potential in various areas.

The representative from Graphite India, which manufactures graphite electrodes proposed to set up a factory in Bhutan.

Although a part of the product would be produced in India, he said the finishing, which is power intensive, could be done in Bhutan where electricity comes cheap.

Next came the proposal from Keventer agro, the manufacturer of Frooti and Appy beverages. The company also showed interest to set up a factory in Bhutan. The bulk of the product, however, would be exported back to India and neighbouring countries. The company has already kept aside funds to start right away but the company’s representative said if Bhutan is revisiting its economic development policy, it should also consider allowing 100 percent FDI.

The Chief Minister said the aviation sector in Bhutan could use their recently operational Greenfield airport as a gateway to other countries. The West Bengal government has declared a 100 percent sales tax exemption on aviation turbine fuel until 2021 for flights refueling there. She urged Bhutan to take advantage of this.

Mamata Banerjee also asked the Chamber of Commerce and Industries of the two countries to explore business corridor for tourism, small industries and joint venture projects.

From the Indian chamber’s side, tourism, manufacturing, industrial and logistic parks along the business corridor and real estate are some of the areas of business interest.

For instance, a Nu 1B project has been identified for an eco-friendly, holistic resort in Thimphu with organic farming on a 10-acre land. Medicine manufacturing in Bhutan is another interest expressed by the Indian camber. The Chief Minister said that as a leave travel concession (LTC) program, civil servants in Bengal were encouraged to visit Bhutan, bringing huge tourism benefit.

Mamata Banerjee also offered land in the state, should Bhutanese wish to set up industries with fast track registration. She said Bhutan could benefit from the farmers market in the state that is equipped with warehouses and cold storage. “I have potato, you have mushroom,” she said. “You have something and I have something else,” she said indicating that the two countries can complement each other’s agriculture products.

She said it would be in the interest of metal industries in West Bengal, if Bhutan exports dolomite and limestone.

“West Bengal is the gateway for North East region,” she said adding that Bhutan can explore business opportunities beyond Bengal and India, through West Bengal.

In the midst of the conclave, the SAARC Development Fund’s (SDF) chief executive officer, (Dr) Sunil Motiwal said SDF is in a strong position to fund JV projects, energy cooperation, and business corridor through its social funding window.

“Market is ready; business is ready; intention is clear and transparency is there,” she said.

Mamata Banerjee who was delighted to inhale “free oxygen” said the Indian state and Bhutan share historic, geographic and economic relations. “Bhutan is my sweet home and West Bengal is sweet home for my Bhutanese brothers and sisters.”

Indian Ambassador, Gautam Bambawale in his address at the conclave said that it is for the people of Bhutan to decide how much hydropower the country should generate.

“India stands ready to go along with the wishes of the Bhutanese and willing to purchase as much excess power the country generates in the coming years,” he said. “A progressive and prosperous Bhutan is in India’s interest.”

Tshering Dorji