Bangladesh and Bhutan today agreed in principle to work on allowing duty free (DF) and quota free (QF)access of a number of their products to each other’s market for the mutual interests.
“Bhutan has sought duty and quota free access of its 16 products to Bangladesh market, while Bangladesh has sought such access of its 10 goods to Bhutanese market during the official talks of the two countries held today,” Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque said while briefing reporters after the talks at the Prime Minister’s Office here this morning.
PM’s Press Secretary Ihsanul Karim was present at the briefing.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina led the Bangladesh side at the talks, while the Bhutanese delegation was led by visiting Bhutanese Premier Dr Lotay Tshering.
According to the foreign secretary, the premier told her Bhutanese counterpartthat Dhaka would consider the matter of duty and quota free access of 16 Bhutanese products to Bangladesh market.
“A positive discussion was held at today’s talks and it’s hoped that it will be done as the issue is in the discussion for a long time,” Haque said.
The issue, he said, was also discussed when the prime minister visited Bhutan.
The foreign secretary noted that the prime minister also said the issue of discussion on duty free and quota free access of 10 Bangladeshi products will take place soon. “We assume that both sides agreed in principle and now it has to be worked out at the technical level,” he said.
Haque said the issues related to trade, business, connectivity and health have been given priority in the talks.
In the field of transit, he said, there is a big initiative in the region which is called Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) initiative for road and rail connectivity.
The foreign secretary said though all countries signed the agreement, it is yet to be ratified by Bhutan parliament. “The new Bhutan government said the bill regarding the initiative will be placed afresh at its Upper Senate for discussion and they are very much hopeful of passage of the bill,” he said.
The connectivity between the four countries will be strengthened further if the bill is passed by the Bhutan parliament, he said.
The foreign secretary said today’s Dhaka-Thimphu summit yielded five memoranda of understanding (MoUs) aiming to strengthen bilateral cooperation in the areas of health, agriculture, shipping, tourism and public administration training.
Haque described Bangladesh ties with Bhutan to be “deep and historic” as Thimphu was the first foreign capital to recognize Bangladesh on December 6 in 1971.
“This relationship is deeper than any other relations and our ties have improved to a great extent over the years . . . the relations are being deepened and widened gradually,” he said.
Haque said the trade figures between the two countries increased after the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Bhutan in 2017 and since then the people-to-people contact in the field of tourism has been boosted as well.
He said the relations between the two countries are not only being deepened, the areas in different sectors including trade, commerce and tourism are also being widened.
The foreign secretary said the two sides discussed the regional electricity trade as talks were already underway to produce hydropower in Bhutan and marketing that electricity in the region while Bangladesh was keen to invest in hydroelectricity in Bhutan.
“The discussion is at the advanced stage and we hope an agreement to this end will be inked soon,” Haque said.
The foreign secretary said a tripartite cooperation will be made when Bhutan-produced hydroelectricity would be marketed in India and Bangladesh.
He said Bhutan also showed interest to hire Bangladeshi specialist doctors to cater their medical sector demands.
Sheikh Hasina said she will personally look into the matter as cooperation between the two countries in the field of health sector was gradually increasing with increased quota for Bhutanese students to 15 from 10 in Bangladesh medical and nursing colleges.
Haque said the Bhutanese prime minister highly appreciated Bangladesh’s pharmaceutical industry.
The Bhutanese prime minister, he said, also highly praised the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Lotay, himself a doctor, simultaneously appreciated Bangladesh premier’s daughter Saima Wazed Hossain’s huge contributions to address the issue of autism.