Tofail, Saran discuss trade

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Bangladesh’s Commerce Minister and the Indian High Commission in Dhaka have discussed ways to boost trade between the two neighbours through investments.
Tofail Ahmed and Pankaj Saran told journalists after their meeting on Thursday that they explored ways to increase Bangladeshi exports to India and narrow down the trade gap.
This was the first meeting between the two after the senior ruling party leader became the Commerce Minister.
Tofail had been to India after being sworn in, where he met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon and the country’s commerce minister among others.
The Indian envoy said he had conveyed to the minister that his India visit had been “very successful” and Delhi would follow it up.
After the meeting at the Secretariat, both said they had agreed that investments and connectivity would help increase trade.
Bangladesh is currently India’s biggest trading partner among the SAARC countries.
According to the India-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IBCCI), Indian investment stood at $ 2.5 billion last year.
Since Nov 2011, Bangladesh has been enjoying duty-free, quota-free access to the Indian market for all items except 25 tariff lines consisting of tobacco, spirits and alcohol.
But Bangladesh’s $563.9 million exports to India in the last fiscal were the highest ever against India’s export of over $ 4.5 billion.
“We are committed to doing what is possible to correcting the imbalance in trade,” Saran said. “On way in our view is to have more Indian investments in Bangladesh”.
He told the minister that major Indian private companies had shown interest with “interesting proposals” to invest in Bangladesh.
The Commerce Minister, in turn, told the envoy that Bangladesh would encourage such investments.
He said if Indian companies were to set up factories here, “they could benefit by exporting their products to the countries where we enjoy GSP and duty-free market access”.
“Our businessmen can also invest in India if they will,” he said.
There have been procedural bottlenecks related to trade such as testing facilities, and border management.
The Indian envoy said they had discussed border infrastructure to make sure the land ports and custom stations improved operations “with greater synchronisation of working hours”.
The Minister said he had discussed trade barriers in his meetings with Prime Minister Mamohan Singh, National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon and his counterpart while in Delhi.
For instances, he said, the BSTI test was unacceptable to India. “They helped in upgrading the test; now I think they will accept it”.
“Similarly, we discussed the removal of other barriers,” the minister said.
The matter would be pursued in secretarial level meetings, he added.
“The problems have been identified and the commerce ministry will be able to solve them,” he said.
The High Commissioner said a whole gamut of connectivity issues had been discussed as well.
“It’s (connectivity) a broader concept. It can come in different form. It can be India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan for power, tele-communications, trade, and road links.”
He said it could also be the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) corridor initiative, which he said was now an official policy after the Chinese Prime Minister’s Delhi visit last year.
The Commerce Minister said increasing connectivity in the SAARC region could increase trade. He said the government was also keen on the BCIM connectivity.