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Delhi, Dhaka working on economic partnership for trade in goods, services: Bangladesh envoy

Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement likely to be part of the discussions during PM Modi's Dhaka visit on 26-27 March when he will be meeting Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina.

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New Delhi: India and Bangladesh could soon begin talks to have a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) covering trade in goods and services even as a joint feasibility study is in progress, said Muhammad Imran, Bangladesh High Commissioner to India.

In an interview to ThePrint, Imran said both sides agreed to have a CEPA when the commerce secretaries of both countries met in Dhaka last month.

“During the recent commerce secretary-level meeting held in Dhaka, both the countries agreed to explore the possibility of entering into a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) covering various aspects of trade such as trade in goods, trade in service, investment, e-commerce, standardisation etc. A joint feasibility study is in progress and both countries are trying to finalise the study at the earliest,” the envoy told ThePrint.

CEPA is an advanced form of a free trade agreement that will ensure preferential and even tariff-free access to goods, services and investments in both countries.

India’s Commerce Secretary Anup Wadhawan met his Bangladeshi counterpart Md. Jafar Uddin in Dhaka on 8 March. The meeting was preceded by the 13th meeting of the Joint Working Group (JWG) on Trade between both sides on 16-17 February 2021, which was held virtually.

While the talks for concluding a CEPA have been going on between New Delhi and Dhaka since 2018, it seems certain sticking points have already emerged.

Bangladesh is believed to be seeking ‘special treatment’ under the pact, similar to what India grants to goods from Bhutan or Nepal. Additionally, Dhaka has also sought tariff-free access into the Indian markets for its readymade garments and removal of non-tariff barriers such as stringent checks on standards.

All these issues are likely to be discussed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming Dhaka visit on 26-27 March when he will be meeting Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

“As both the prime ministers would be meeting and talks will be held at the delegation level, the issues of mutual bilateral interests are expected to be discussed including trade, connectivity, water issues, border management, cultural cooperation,” the envoy said.

Bangladesh is gradually moving from the status of a ‘Least Developed Country (LDC)’ to a ‘Developing Country’ and will need more and more free trade agreements to enjoy tariff-free access in India.

At present, since Bangladesh has LDC status, it enjoys duty-free access for its products entering India under the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA).


Also read: India is Bangladesh’s true friend — Sheikh Hasina to PM Modi at virtual summit


Border management and Rohingya repatriation

Modi and Hasina, who held a virtual summit in December last year, will dwell upon the issue of better border management between the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) when they meet this time.

“Bangladesh and India share more than 4,000-km common border and border management is an important issue whenever the two sides meet. Both the sides are committed to maintaining a peaceful border with utmost respect for human lives,” said Imran.

During his last visit to Dhaka, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar also sought to soothe Bangladesh’s nerves on border management, which has become a big issue there.

During his meeting with Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen, both sides vowed to create a ‘no crime, no death border’, aiming to reduce incidents of BSF or BGB personnel getting killed.

On the issue of repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, Imran said Bangladesh is depending on its neighbours as well as international community to make this happen, especially after the 1 February military coup in that country.

“Bangladesh expects support from the international community for a sustainable repatriation of Rohingya refugees to their native land. The same we expect from our neighbors. Bangladesh expects India as a regional power to assist and play an important role especially as a non-permanent member of UNSC in the repatriation of forcibly displaced Rohingya back their country of origin, Myanmar,” he said.

About 1 million Rohingya refugees are presently residing in Bangladesh.

India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh. V. Shringla Tuesday said India recognises Bangladesh’s contribution in giving refuge to the Rohingyas, and also provided aid to Bangladesh.

New Delhi has also built houses for them under the Rakhine development plan in Myanmar.


Also read: End of India-Pakistan hostilities will have major impact on furthering peace in J&K — NC


Connectivity between India, Bangladesh 

On the issue of enhancing connectivity between the two countries, which New Delhi has decided to take to the next level, the Dhaka envoy said: “Bangladesh, as a friend, has been extending all support so far as connectivity is concerned. Both the countries should work together to make it sustainable — by creating new jobs, increasing productivity and promoting export in the region and beyond.”

India has given a massive push to enhance infrastructure connectivity with the neighbouring country, as New Delhi plans to take Dhaka into its strategic embrace under the umbrella of Indo-Pacific cooperation.

Prime Minister Modi’s Dhaka trip will be his first ever visit abroad since the Covid-19 lockdown. He was expected to visit Dhaka in March 2020 but it was postponed due to the pandemic.

“This is a special year for Bangladesh. We are celebrating ‘Mujib Borsho’ (birth centenary of Bangladesh’s Father of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman) and Golden Jubilee of our Independence, and also 50 years of the establishment of diplomatic ties between India and Bangladesh. Hon’ble Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi ji would be the guest of honor at all these celebrations during his visit,” the envoy said.

(Edited by Sanghamitra Mazumdar)


Also read: India, Bangladesh will deepen defence & security ties: Foreign secy ahead of Modi’s visit


 

 

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