Arguments about the merit and demerits of the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN) motor vehicle agreement are flying back and forth.
The main arguments against the agreement include the possibility of Bhutan getting swamped by large numbers of vehicles both private and commercial from Bangladesh and Nepal.
We are not talking about India because even if the BBIN agreement is ratified, our existing arrangement with India will stand. Both Bhutanese and Indian private vehicles can continue to cross the border and travel freely. There is no cap on the number of vehicles that cross over. Commercial vehicles, like trucks, buses, and taxis will stop at the border, with the exception of our public buses going on till Siliguri and Kolkata.
Now, if the BBIN agreement is ratified, we can expect to see traffic from Bangladesh and Nepal as well. While the numbers of vehicles, both private and commercial, that will be permitted annually has not yet been determined, there are still fears that our road infrastructure will be overwhelmed, the environment will be harmed, and our taxi and trucking businesses lost.
We can understand why such concerns arise. Bhutan is a small country with a small market.
But we must also understand that the numbers of vehicles that will be permitted has not yet been decided.
Therefore, it is hoped that when negotiating the protocols, the number of private vehicles that will be permitted is kept to a minimum.
We are also aware that the government is trying to convince Bangladesh and Nepal to halt their passenger and commercial vehicles at our border, similar to our arrangement with India. The government claims to have already reached some kind of agreement with the two countries. According to the government, the two countries have agreed to halt their commercial vehicles at our border but still allow our commercial vehicles into their countries.
If the government pulls this off, it will be a significant achievement that should not prevent us from ratifying the agreement.
Ratification of the agreement depends on the protocols worked out and which are likely to be finalised only next year. This raises the possibility that the agreement may not be ratified in the upcoming session of Parliament.
Integrating regions seems to be the future. Many point to the EU as a shining example.
Therefore, a question we must ask ourselves is whether we’re simply putting off the inevitable.
But what is most important as we go ahead is to ensure that local economic and social concerns are taken into account when the protocols of the agreement are determined. If this takes another year or two, so be it.
It is commendable that the government and the opposition have been repeatedly meeting the people to discuss the agreement. We need more such discussions before reaching an agreement.