Sheikh Hasina and Lotay Tshering have agreed on building the necessary infrastructure to avail the maximum benefits of the PTA signed between Bangladesh and Bhutan, writes Pathik Hasan for South Asia Monitor
Bangladesh and Bhutan have a harmonious relationship based on mutual interests, shared history and culture. They can work together in information and communication technology, agriculture, horticulture and fisheries to enhance trade and investment relations.
Bhutan is a true friend of Bangladesh. Bangladeshis are grateful to the Bhutanese government and people for their support and cooperation in the war of liberation in 1971. The two countries signed a Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) on December 6, 2020. It was Bangladesh's first PTA with any country.
Under this agreement, 100 products of Bangladesh will get duty-free facility in Bhutan and 34 products of Bhutan will get the facility in Bangladesh. According to the Export Promotion Bureau of Bangladesh, bilateral trade in 2018-19 totalled $56.90 million,
Bhutan imports vegetables and fruits, minerals, construction materials, boulder, limestone, coal, pulp and chemicals from Bangladesh. Garments, furniture, food items, medicines, plastics and electrical products made in Bhutan are exported from Bangladesh.
Since 2010, Bangladesh has been providing duty-free market access to Bhutan on 18 products. Besides, 90 products of Bangladesh get duty free market facilities in the Bhutan market. Bhutan is the largest exporter of stone to Bangladesh. Bangladesh is Bhutan's second-largest export market.
According to Bangladeshi media, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said that Bhutan can use Bangladesh's Chittagong, Mongla and Payra seaports and Syedpur airport if it wants. Bhutan can also set up warehouses anywhere in Bangladesh to facilitate inland transport.
Bhutan wants to use Bangladeshi river routes from Chittagong and Mongla ports in Bangladesh to take goods to Dhubri port in India. Dhaka has shown a positive attitude towards bringing and taking goods through Roumari-Chilmari.
Bangladesh has initially agreed to allow Bhutan to import and export goods by rail. To this end, the Rohanpur-Singabad rail route between Bangladesh and India will be launched.
At one time, trade with Bhutan was done only through the Burimari land port. Bangladesh has now allowed the use of land ports at Tamabil, Banglabandha and Nakugaon to increase trade by land.
There have been discussions between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) on the movement of passenger, private and freight vehicles by road. Once this is achieved, people of the four countries will get many benefits while moving from one country to another. While three countries have agreed to the accord, Bhutan’s Parliament has not yet given its approval.
Bhutan has a lot of surplus hydropower. Bangladesh has shown interest in buying this electricity. But Bhutan Prime Minister Lotay Tshering has stressed the need for trilateral talks to involve India. No agreement has been reached yet.
Sheikh Hasina and Lotay Tshering have agreed on building the necessary infrastructure to avail the maximum benefits of the PTA signed between Bangladesh and Bhutan. The two leaders discussed cooperation in various sectors including trade and connectivity. Bhutan and Bangladesh have agreed to operate river routes between them to expand trade.
Tshering wants a one-time full-term visa and multiple-entry facilities for Bhutanese students studying in Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina has told the concerned agencies to take necessary steps in this regard. Bangladesh can cooperate with Bhutan in the IT sector including broadband internet.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh's diplomatic relations with Bhutan as well as the golden jubilee of Bangladesh's independence. During his visit to Dhaka in March, the Prime Ministers of Bhutan and Bangladesh reviewed the overall aspects of bilateral relations and vowed to enhance mutual cooperation in various fields, building on their successful PTA.
(The writer is a Dhaka-based NGO activist and researcher writer on international relations. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)