After PTA, Bangladesh and Bhutan can cooperate to solve regional issues, tackle Covid

Once the PTA comes into force, more people in Bangladesh will get access to good apples and oranges from Bhutan, while the fashion-conscious Bhutanese can choose from more varieties of quality apparel from Bangladesh, writes Md Pathik Hasan for South Asia Monitor 

MD Pathik Hasan Sep 10, 2021
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Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA)

South Asian neighbors Bangladesh and Bhutan have a harmonious relationship on the strength of their mutual interest, shared history and culture. On December 6, 1971, Bhutan and India became the first countries to recognize the independence of Bangladesh. Bangladesh-Bhutan ties started to deepen from this period.

Bangladesh and Bhutan have a common identity with their peace-loving people sharing similar views on many regional issues. Both are democratic nations. There are many potential areas where Bhutan and Bangladesh can work together for the better promotion of democracy, peacekeeping, regional stability and people’s welfare.

These areas of cooperation include trade, tourism, hydropower, climate change impacts, health, protection of bio-diversity, agro-processing, agriculture, ICT, education, water resource management and much more.

In 2016, Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid addressed the parliament of Bhutan. On 6 December 2020, the two nations signed a Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) with provisions for free trade in certain goods. The signing of the PTA was witnessed by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina and her Bhutanese counterpart Lotay Tshering. The Bhutanese PM later visited Bangladesh to mark the birth centenary of the country’s founder Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the 50 years of its independence. It is very pertinent to mention that PM Tshering studied at Mymensingh Medical College and can speak in Bangla.

PTA benefits

The PTA with Bhutan is the first signed by Bangladesh with any country. The PTA aims to explore all appropriate measures to facilitate and promote bilateral trade and is expected to build upon the existing friendly relations and strengthen the cooperation in the field of trade and commerce.

With the signing of the PTA, 16 more products from Bhutan will enjoy duty-free access to Bangladesh, in addition to the existing 18 products. Likewise, 10 more products from Bangladesh will enjoy duty-free access to Bhutan in addition to the existing 90 products. Goods like jute and jute products, baby clothes and accessories, men’s trousers, jackets and blazers are among the items from Bangladesh which will get duty-free access to Bhutan. On the other hand, fruit juice, natural honey, wheat flour jams, jellies and limestone, quartzite, etc from Bhutan will have duty-free access to Bangladesh.

However, under the PTA, while 100 Bangladeshi products will get duty-free access to Bhutan, 34 items from the Himalayan kingdom will get duty-free access into Bangladesh. Further items can be added to the list later after bilateral discussions.

The trade volume between the two countries is approximately USD 50 million with USD 7.56 million of export and USD 42.09 million of imports to Bangladesh.

Once the agreement comes into force, more people in Bangladesh will get access to good apples and oranges from Bhutan, as also other fruits and vegetables. The fashion-conscious people of Bhutan can choose from more varieties of quality apparel from Bangladesh.  

Other sectors of cooperation

Bhutan and Bangladesh have many other avenues of cooperation, Bhutan can use the waterways of  Bangladesh, which is already developing Chilmari port. The ports in Narayanganj and Pangaoni can also be opened to Bhutan. Besides, it can also use three other ports at Chattogram, Mongla and Payra. Bangladesh is developing Saidpur airport in Nilpamari district as a regional airport. Bhutan can use that airport too.

For railway connectivity, the Chilahati railway project provides a big opportunity for Bangladesh-Bhutan cooperation.

Bangladesh and Bhutan have already established a meaningful symbiotic relationship for the overall development and well-being of their citizens.

Infrastructure projects in Bangladesh can benefit by tapping into the rich reserves of boulder stones in Bhutan, while Bangladeshi pharmaceuticals can contribute to the health sector in Bhutan. Bhutan is today a democratic, modern and progressive country. Bhutan’s concept of ‘Gross National Happiness’ has won the admiration of the world.

Bangladeshi NGOs can participate in the development process in Bhutan, which can utilize more human resources of Bangladesh.

Regional cooperation

Bangladesh's Vision 2021 (political vision of Bangladesh on the golden jubilee of its independence) and Vision 2041 (that strives to make Bangladesh a high-income country by 2041 by ending poverty) programs are guided by the dream of creating a Golden Bangladesh as envisioned by the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Already significant progress has been made on food and energy security, education, poverty alleviation, empowerment of women, social welfare, and development with sustained economic growth.

As Bangladesh endeavors to attain its goals, the country seeks valuable cooperation from its friends and neighbors to strengthen government initiatives, including regional connectivity designed to make all in the region prosperous.  

Stronger regional and international cooperation is necessary in the coming days in mitigating the impact of the pandemic and for the rebuilding phase.

Bangladesh is set to be a rising South Asian economic power and would like to play a significant role in solving some regional problems. Bhutan and Bangladesh can work together in these areas. Bhutan can similarly help Bangladesh tackle the Covid-19 pandemic using its successful containment strategies.

(The writer is a Dhaka, Bangladesh, based NGO activist and researcher-writer on international relations. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at pathikhasan1141@gmail.com)