Nima Wangdi | Dhaka

Although Bhutan and Bangladesh signed the Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) in December last year, the pandemic did not favour any trade activities.

The Prime Ministers of both countries, during their meeting on March 24 in Dhaka, agreed to put efforts to overcome the setback.

This was one of the bilateral issues that the two leaders discussed on the sidelines during Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering’s recent state visit to Bangladesh.

The sole motive of Lyonchhen’s visit was to pay tribute to the father of Bangladesh, Banglabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, on the 50th Independence Day celebration.

The foreign ministries of Bhutan and Bangladesh issued a joint statement on the meeting of the two Prime Ministers.

According the statement, the leaders discussed the importance of holding the commerce secretary-level meeting (CSLM) and foreign office consultation (FOC) at the earliest to overcome the setbacks. “They also emphasised amending standard operating procedure (SOP) on the use of inland waterways and finalise the protocol to the Transit Agreement on the priority basis.”

It also stated the chambers of commerce should come up with innovative ways of doing business to enhance private sector cooperation between the two countries.

“They also encouraged exporters and importers of both countries to use the riverine route as an alternative to the roads for the transportation of goods.”

It also stated the Prime Ministers noted that a secretary-level meeting should be conducted soon as part of the progress towards signing MoU on trilateral cooperation between Bhutan, Bangladesh and India for hydro-electricity. “They would also explore possibilities of bilateral cooperation in this sector.”

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering thanked Bangladesh for the support rendered to Bhutan towards establishing a third international internet gateway.  Bangladesh has also supported Bhutan’s proposal to buy bandwidth from Bangladesh, which will ensure reliable internet and communications for Bhutan.

“As a gesture of goodwill and friendship and as part of the celebrations of 50 years of Bhutan’s recognition of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina decided to provide Bhutan internet bandwidth at a friendly rate,” the joint statement stated.  Sheikh Hasina has also offered Bhutan full access to Bangladesh’s seaports.

The two prime ministers have also discussed exploring the possibilities of rail connectivity between two countries through Chilahati-Haldibari interlink between Bangladesh and India.  The interlink was inaugurated recently.

Bangladesh also agreed to increase the annual MBBS quota seats for Bhutanese students from 15 to 20.  They will also issue multiple entry visa to Bhutanese students for the entire duration of their study depending on the validity of their passports.

Meanwhile, after arriving at Paro airport yesterday, Lyonchhen drove the car that was parked at the airport himself for a mandatory 21-day quarantine in Thimphu.