A bilateral meeting was held in Dhaka today between Commerce Minister of Bangladesh, Tofail Ahmed, MP and Commerce & Industry and Civil Aviation Minister of India, Suresh Prabhu.
Both Ministers noted the significant progress made in the bilateral relationship under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They reiterated their commitment to further strengthen the bilateral relations on the basis of friendship, trust and understanding for the mutual benefit of the people of Bangladesh and India.
The two Ministers discussed a number of trade, investment and connectivity related matters of interest. These include a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, Border Haats, improvement of infrastructure and operations of Land Customs Stations on the Bangladesh – India border, recognition of test certificates, anti-dumping measures and port restrictions.
Considering the vision of Bangladesh to become a middle income country by 2021 and a developed country by 2041, both Ministers agreed that a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) covering goods, services and investment would provide a sound basis for substantial enhancement of trade and commercial partnership. They directed their officials to undertake a joint study on the prospects of entering into a bilateral CEPA.
Both Ministers agreed to expedite the constitution of a Bangladesh – India CEO Forum for providing policy level inputs relating to trade and investment issues under different sectors of interest such as jute, textiles, energy, pharmaceuticals, information technology, etc. The Forum could convene sectoral sub groups to deliberate on specific issues concerning each sector. Minister Prabhu invited Bangladesh’s participation in the Partnership Summit, to be organised by India in January 2019, as a Partner Country. Minister Prabhu also offered to organize a joint investment summit in India in October – November 2018, focused on bilateral investments and invited Minister Ahmed to participate in the summit, along with a business delegation drawn from identified sectors of interest. Minister Ahmed agreed to consider the visit. Minister Ahmed also requested that Indian investors be encouraged to utilise the facilities being offered by the Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (BEZA).
In the context of a number of new initiatives being taken by both India and Bangladesh in various sectors, both Ministers agreed to establish a mechanism such as a joint multi-disciplinary group for sharing of best practices for mutual benefit.
Minister Ahmed requested to address the issue of anti-dumping duty levied on import of jute goods and other products from Bangladesh to India. In response Suresh Prabhu conveyed that the concerns of the relevant exporters would be taken into consideration during the investigations. He also suggested that a meeting between the Jute industry of the two countries could be organized to find the way forward on resolving the issue. Both sides agreed for early finalization of MoU under consideration, aimed at capacity building of Bangladesh officials in issues related to trade remedies. Both sides also agreed to consider an MoU between Bangladesh Foreign Trade Institute (BFTI) and Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT) for capacity building of trade officials and stakeholders, including joint training in either country.
Both sides agreed to arrange industry-specific interactions among the respective stakeholders to enhance business to business cooperation and utilize inherent advantages of both countries towards a larger share of the global value chains relating to pharmaceuticals, leather, jute and textiles sectors.
Both Ministers agreed to fast-track the completion of six new Border Haats which are under construction and identification of locations for six additional Border Haats, including Dalu-Nakugaon in Sherpur district proposed by Bangladesh in consultation with relevant stakeholders, including Government of Meghalaya by the Indian side. Both Ministers expressed their intention to inaugurate the first additional Border Haat at the earliest.
Recognizing the importance of Petrapole-Benapole land border trading point, the two Ministers agreed to remove impediments affecting smooth clearance of cargo at this location. In this regard, they agreed for a one-time push to remove congestion of cargo trucks, with effect from 15th October 2018, for a period of two months. Minister Prabhu also reiterated India’s offer to support improvement of infrastructure of Land Customs Stations (LCS) in Bangladesh, adjoining Tripura border.
Minister Ahmed raised the issue relating to recognition by Indian authorities of test certificates issued by the Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institution (BSTI). Minister Prabhu assured that expeditious resolution would be carried out for acceptance of BSTI test certificates for export of cement and steel products from Bangladesh. On the request of recognition of BSTI test certificates for 6 additional food products, Minister Prabhu assured that it would be recognized once BSTI receives the accreditation from NABL or equivalent institution for these products. Minister Ahmed also raised the issue of acceptance of BSTI certificates for caustic soda. Minister Prabhu mentioned that the issue is being examined for expeditious resolution, including issue of license to Bangladesh exporters, as an interim measure.
Minister Prabhu raised the issue of sudden increase in imports of refined edible palm and soybean oil from Bangladesh and the possibility of routing of third country origin oils into India, through Bangladesh under SAFTA. It was requested that the concerned Certificates of Origin are issued with due diligence and regularly shared with the Indian authorities, if possible through online mode. Minister Ahmed mentioned that the Certificates of Origin under SAFTA are issued carefully after considering the requisite evidence. He, however, agreed to examine the issue for resolution keeping in view the interest of bonafide exporters.
Minister Prabhu appreciated the recent relaxation in port restrictions allowed by Bangladesh but requested that as per issue taken up by Tripura and other State Governments, more products may be allowed to be exported through the Land Customs Stations on the border.
Minister Prabhu highlighted that many international tenders issued by various agencies and Ministries of Government of Bangladesh preclude participation of Indian companies by restricting the country of origin of goods or services to be supplied. He requested that this issue may be addressed expeditiously. Minister Ahmed agreed to have the issue examined by the concerned authorities for early resolution.
Both Ministers expressed appreciation on the recent developments in the field of connectivity between the two countries, including rail connectivity. Noting the need to restore pre-1965 railway connectivity between two countries, Bangladesh side proposed to start a new end-to-end train service between Dhaka and Siliguri with customs and immigration checks at the starting points at both ends. Bangladesh side mentioned the need to establish seamless dual gauge rail connectivity between western and eastern part of Bangladesh for which Indian side offered its support to Bangladesh.
The Ministers expressed concern that the global trade and economic situation is at a critical stage due to the ongoing trade tensions in which developing countries and LDCs suffer consequential collateral damage. Keeping this in view, they reiterated their commitment to the rule-based multilateral trading system that ensures free, fair and open global trade for achieving sustainable economic growth and development. Recalling the successful WTO Mini Ministerial Meeting held in New Delhi in March 2018, the Ministers called for collective action for revitalizing WTO without undermining its core principles of Special and Differential Treatment, Consensus Building, Inclusiveness and Transparency.