That Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal have signed an important agreement on motor vehicle movement in the region comes as good news for the member countries.
Bhutanese can now take truckloads of goods all the way to Dhaka, without having to transship to Bangladeshi or Indian trucks, and bring back goods from Dhaka. Such a hassle had been an impediment in the export and import business for many decades.
As Bhutan mostly exports perishable goods like fruits and vegetables to Bangladesh, it has been a hassle to stop at tri junctions and transship goods to trucks that are not allowed to ply in Bangladesh.
Credit to the member countries for solving an issue to mutual benefit. Such an agreement is long overdue. SAARC countries, given their populations and sizes, are already a huge market for member states. We could absorb all the niche goods each member country produces, thereby reducing the need to depend on third country exports, except for specialised clientele.
Bhutanese apples and oranges are not enough to meet the demand of agro industries in Bangladesh and India. Nepal is a good transit route for trade with central Asian and Far East Asian countries. But because of lack of understanding and cooperation, it has become a hurdle and therefore expensive for member countries to trade.
Like Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay said in his opening statement, the agreement will address numerous physical and non-physical barriers that make the transportation process inefficient, costly, and cumbersome. If it boosts trade, it will also generate greater goodwill and understanding among the signatories that are already members of a regional association, the SAARC.
If SAARC members are trading more with third countries, other than among members, it is because of lack of clear understanding like this. SAARC member countries boast vast natural resources, manpower and historical ties, but the reality is that, with the exception of Bhutan and India, trade with non-member countries far supersedes that between or among member countries.
Our potential as a regional association has been outweighed by deep-rooted tensions among member states. Our differences dominate our commonalities, and it has been the bilateral rifts, which have dominated regional efforts. In short, we don’t get along.
Although we share geographical boundaries, the irony is that it is easier to trade with non-SAARC countries, including the European Union. This is a tragedy in itself. There will be no economic development without free secure cross border movements. Let this agreement be a harbinger of more collaboration among and between the member nations for a better SAARC future.
Meanwhile, even as the member countries of the BBIN fast track to clear the requirements needed for the implementation of the agreement, there are certain crucial things that need to be ensured. High on the priority list should be ensuring security of foreign vehicles passing through member country’s soil. The good intentions of the agreement will be defeated, if a Bhutanese travelling through India or Bhutan is not safe and vice versa.