Address by the Hon'ble Minister for Foreign Affairs at the India-Bangladesh North-East Business Conclave Hotel Pan Pacific Sonargaon.
President Indian Chamber of Commerce
President Indo-Bangla Chamber of Commerce
Distinguished Chief Ministers from Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh
Distinguished Ministers from the States of North-East of India
Business leaders, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
I wish you all a very good afternoon.
Let me at the outset thank the organizers of today's programme, the Indo-Bangla North East Business Conclave on ways and means to strengthen our trade and commerce with the Northeast and 3rd Indo-Bangla Trade Fair. It is a very timely initiative which will allow us to identify areas of cooperation and share views on harnessing the synergies that so obviously exists between our two countries and particularly between us and the northeastern region.
Let me also at the outset extend a very warm welcome to our distinguished guests from the Northeastern States. Some of you are very old friends who have visited us before and some of you are visiting us for the first time, but we are extremely happy that you are with us and share your valuable time and engage with today.
I think I need not reiterate to all of you how much importance Bangladesh attaches to its relationship with India. We share commonalities of history, culture, religion and language and geographical contiguity. Following the assumption of office by the present government led by Hon'ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, we have given the highest priority to further deepening and widening of this age old relationship. The exchange of visits between the Hon'ble Prime Ministers of our two countries in January 2010 and September 2011 enabled them to lay out a matrix that envisaged ways to resolve pending issues, address existing irritants and identify new areas of cooperation. They have presented us with a forward looking vision for the benefit of not only the peoples of our two countries but the entire region.
It is this vision for mutual cooperation that led Prime Minister Sheikh to announce in January 2010 that Bangladesh would be happy to provide transit access to India through Bangladesh to the States of the northeast as well as use of Chittagong and Mongla ports. Taking into consideration the logic of the need for the entire region to develop together, we have also granted transit including use of Chittagong and Mongla ports to Nepal and Bhutan. Much of the work to operationalise these decisions has already begun - we have undertaken a comprehensive study of the requirements for providing this facility. The survey work for construction of bridge over Feni river, an essential component of access from Tripura to Chittagong is underway and the MoU for construction of rail connectivity between Akhaura and Agartala is almost complete. These are the small links in the bigger picture of an inter-connected region with Bangladesh as the hub of the entire network of rails, roads, waterways and air links. We firmly believe that regional connectivity is the only way we can achieve prosperity and share the benefits of socio-economic development. This message was firmly conveyed when our Hon-ble Prime Minister paid a historic visit to Agartala in January this year/ I also recall my own brief but very substantive visit to Tripura in November 2010. Both these visits enabled us to sample some of the possibilities for cooperation.
The government of India has also taken a momentous unilateral gestures to promote our bilateral trade. We deeply appreciate the decision of the government of India to allow duty free access to all products from Bangladesh except only 25 banned items under SAFTA. This single gesture will have far reaching impact on our bilateral trade relations and has removed a long standing irritation on the side of Bangladesh regarding the trade imbalance. I understand that already our trade with India has trebled this year in comparison to last year. I am confident that once our business people become more used to doing business with each other and facilitation measures become effective, the volume of trade will multiply to manifold degrees.
Let me briefly recapitulate the small but significant steps that has been taken by the two governments in the trade and commerce front. Our two sides have operationalised a Standard Operating Procedure that allows trucks carrying bilateral cargo to enter upto 200 meters across the zero line and deposit their cargo in the warehouses. One borer haat along the Kurigram-Meghalaya border is already operational and the other one on the Sunamganj-Meghalaya border is ready to be inaugurated. The success of the border haats has inspired both sides to expand the scope of its operational modalities. We have also agreed to open four new border haats along the Bangladesh-Tripura border. I understand that early next month a joint team will visit the identified locations to determine their suitability. A proposal to establish four more border haats along the Bangladesh-Mijoram border is under consideration.
A major step in trade facilitation is the improvement of the infrastructure of the land customs stations and land ports. We are very happy to note that the government of India has taken projects to develop Integrated Check Posts at Agartala, Fulbari and Petrapole. Improved facilities at these very important points for our bilateral trade will significantly reduce costs and time for exporters and importers alike. I am also happy to note that the same team which will be looking at the border haats along the Bangladesh-Tripura border, will also jointly inspect the physical infrastructure of the LCS/Land Ports along that border. In order to understand the constraints of infrastructure and facilities, we have also conducted three trial runs of transshipment bulk cargo at Ashuganj and their transportation to Aagartala via Akhaura.
Ensuring energy security for our fast growing economies is a major challenge for both our governments. We understand the critical importance of developing alternate sources of power. It is with this understanding that we facilitated the movement of Over Dimensional Cargo for the Palatana Multi-purpose Project in Tripura using Ashuganj as a transshipment point to Akhaura and Agartala despite serious infrastructure constraints. Power trade is a new area of cooperation for our two countries and I am happy to note that we have signed the Power Purchase Agreement for the purchase of 250MW power and the work is going ahead for transmission of the power from Behrampur to Bheramara. We have also agreed to explore grid connectivity on the eastern side between Bangladesh and Tripura for transport of power from the northeast into Bangladesh. We have already said that we would like to invest in power projects in Tripura. Similarly we are also beginning to explore possibilities of harnessing the abundant hydro-power resources of the region and take up projects with Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar and India.