Special Correspondent: While the volume of bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh has reached 10 billion dollars, there is still a huge trade deficit between the two countries. There are also some inconsistencies. The two countries are well on their way to concluding a new trade agreement – the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
Government officials in Delhi have hinted that during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s proposed visit to India later this year, the two countries are working hard to sign a new agreement called ‘CEPA’ or its framework agreement.
In fact, this was the main topic of discussion at a meeting between the two countries’ trade secretaries last Friday (March 4) in Delhi. The Joint Study Group, comprising experts and officials from both countries, has already prepared an outline of the proposed CEPA – a hair-raising analysis of various aspects of the document presented by them at the meeting.
After the meeting, a spokesman for the Indian Ministry of Commerce said on Saturday that the two countries’ trade secretaries had agreed to finalize the draft prepared by the joint study group as soon as possible. And once it is finalized, ‘CEPA’ will be ready for signing.
No deadline has been set for finalizing the draft, but both sides are working to complete it in the next few months. Talks are also underway on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India at some point in the second half of this year. Dhaka-Delhi both sides want the new bilateral trade agreement to be signed during the visit.
But where trade between India and Bangladesh is already taking place under SAFTA (South Asia Free Trade Agreement), why is there a need for a new trade agreement?
Economic Research Institute and Thinktank RIS in Delhi, Professor. Prabir Dey told that since the naming of CEPA contains the word ‘comprehensive’, it means that its scope will be much wider.
‘As in SAFTA, we only talk about goods or products, but in such an agreement, services, goods and investment – these three things will be covered. As a result, the scope of cooperation will be much greater.
“Apart from that, under SAFTA, Bangladesh enjoys free trade as long as it remains a least developed country – economically, if it takes the next step, a new trade agreement will be needed between the two countries,” he said. However, India is willing to consider the request of the LDC Alliance to maintain at least three more years of ‘promotion’ of Bangladeshi products under SAFTA, which is currently a duty-free access to India under SAFTA due to being a LDC.
During a meeting between Bangladesh’s Commerce Secretary Tapan Kanti Ghosh and his Indian counterpart BVR Subramaniam in India on Friday said that this special facility would continue till the signing of the CEPA agreement.
A number of other important decisions were taken at the same meeting, which are expected to have a positive impact on enhancing trade cooperation between the two countries. Here are some of them:
- The Integrated Check Post (ICP) at Benapole-Petrapole, the main commercial point between the two countries, will henceforth be a round-the-clock operation, meaning it will be open 24 hours a day.
- A new 900-meter-long siding rail line will be built at Benapole to facilitate freight trains between the two countries. A loading and unloading platform will also be set up at Darshana railway station for the same purpose.
- A container handling facility will be set up at Sirajganj Bazar in Bangladesh, for which approval of Detailed Project Report (DPP) has been sought. A similar report has been approved for the construction of a rail-based ICD at Ishwardi.
- Border haats on the border between the two countries, which have been closed for the past two years due to the Covid epidemic, will be reopened soon. The number of Border Haats will also be increased.
Both sides are very optimistic and confident that bilateral trade will gain new momentum and impetus after the signing of CEPA.
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