Md. Joynal Abdin
The Financial Express on June 20, 2015
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Bangladesh during 6-7 June 2015 with his team. A good number of deals were signed and renewed during his visit which included:
1. Exchange of Instruments of Ratification of 1974 Land Boundary Agreement and its 2011 Protocol and Exchange of letters on Modalities for implementation of 1974 Land Boundary Agreement and its 2011 Protocol: This is a long-awaited issue solved by the current government of India. A constitutional amendment was needed to implement the agreement by the Indian authority. Current Modi government has the strength with two-thirds majority in the parliament to amend the constitution and implement Land Boundary Agreement 1974. Thanks go to the present government of India for their willingness after a long waiting period. From Bangladesh part it is a result of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s government; therefore its credential goes to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his government to a large extent.
2. Bilateral Trade Agreement (renewal): This is an old agreement between Bangladesh and India signed in 2006 by Mr M Saifur Rahman, the then Minister for Finance & Planning, Government of People’s Republic of Bangladesh and Mr Kamal Nath, the then Minister of Commerce and Industry, Government of the Republic of India on behalf of both the countries. Main objective was to explore potential ways forward for mutual cooperation in terms of economic, technical issues for expanding and diversifying trade between both the nations. This agreement was renewed by both the governments.
3. Agreement on Coastal Shipping between Bangladesh and India: A new agreement was signed to facilitate coastal shipping between Bangladesh and India. If we could use water transport to carry goods between both the countries then obviously the cost would go down. But the route should exclude the Sunderbans to protect its ecological resources.
4. Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (renewal): This is an old protocol renewed to allow Indian water transports through Bangladeshi waterways though we failed to achieve water required in the Teesta to keep this waterway functional.
5. Bilateral Cooperation on Agreement between Bangladesh Standards & Testing Institution (BSTI) and Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) on Cooperation in the field of Standardization: A major non-tariff barrier (NTB) to increasing Bangladeshi exports to India is non-acceptance of Bangladeshi standard certification by the Indian authority. It is a good start to sign an agreement between BSTI and BIS for mutual recognition of standard certificates. But there are lots of initiatives yet to be taken to implement the agreement and provide its benefit to the businessmen.
6. Agreement on Dhaka-Shillong-Guwahati Bus Service and its Protocol and Agreement on Kolkata-Dhaka-Agartala Bus Service and its Protocol: It is a priority desire of Indian government to get access to eastern and north eastern parts of India through Bangladesh. It will reduce the distance two-thirds and cost of transportation will be much cheaper than ever. Now Indian people can use Bangladeshi land to reach the other parts. But what Bangladesh is getting out of this agreement? Have we claimed similar facility to get access into Nepal or Bhutan through Indian lands? If we did it what is the status of that agreement? Why another similar agreement is not signed to allow Bangladesh to get into Nepal or Bhutan by using Indian land similarly at the same time? A similar agreement could offer Bangladesh to get access to Nepal and Bhutan markets easily.
7. Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Coast Guards: It is important to have mutual understanding between the two neighboring countries to fight against terrorism, smuggling, of even natural calamity unitedly. Therefore, this agreement could offer mutual benefit out of it if we could negotiate the issues appropriately with the counterparts.
8. Memorandum of Understanding on Prevention of Human Trafficking: Human trafficking is becoming a major issue of concern day by day. Such trafficking is creating multidimensional challenges to us. Illegal migration of workers through waterways is the most talked-about topic over the last few months. Besides, this illegal women and children trafficking is a major crime occurring in the poor countries like us. Therefore an understanding to cooperate between two neighboring states to fight against it is a good beginning.
9. Memorandum of Understanding on Prevention of Smuggling and Circulation of Fake Currency Notes: Illegal trade and smuggling is a major cause of less amount of legal trade between Bangladesh and India. Both the governments especially the Bangladesh government is losing revenue due to informal boarder trade. Fake currency is a major threat for any economy. Therefore signing this MoU is also a timely step taken by both the leaders.
10. Memorandum of Understanding between Bangladesh and India and for Extending a New Line of Credit (LoC) for US$ 2.0 billion by Government of India to Government of Bangladesh: Credit for development is a good monetary help. But in what interest rate? For how many years? How to pay it back? These issues shall be considered seriously before implementing it. Besides monetary credit India could really help us by transferring technology, managerial skills, technical knowhow etc. Such help could serve us much better than that of a monetary amount.
11. Memorandum of Understanding on Blue Economy and Maritime Cooperation in the Bay of Bengal and the India Ocean: A long-debated issue of ownership of lands in the Bay of Bengal between Bangladesh and India was dissolved through an international court order a year ago. Now it is the time to respect others’ right to own respective sea area and explore economic benefit out of it for the betterment of respective peoples of the region. Protection of sea ecology, exploration of mineral resources, earnings from fishing, fighting against pirates etc — all aspects need mutual assistance. So it could be another good understanding between both the nations.
12. Memorandum of Understanding on Use of Chittagong and Mongla Ports: Using Chittagong and Mongla ports by the northeastern states of India could be a good source of revenue for Bangladesh government. But the revenue rate and other depreciation rate should be negotiated as per international norms and practices.
13. Memorandum of Understanding for a Project under IECC (India Endowment for Climate Change) of SAARC: Bangladesh is one of the most affected countries due to climate change. But we have very negligible contribution to this global problem. Therefore Bangladesh should get priority in case of designing any development project relevant to climate change.
14. Memorandum of Understanding on Indian Economic Zone: Two exclusive economic zones are supposed to be set up for the Indian investors in Bangladesh. It could be a good start for attracting more Indian investment into Bangladesh. But one thing we must remember that the projects should be labour intensive to facilitate employment generation and technology transfer. Otherwise, Bangladesh may not be benefited out of it in case of any repatriation of these. Before finally implementing this understanding we must remember our local entrepreneurs’ stake, employment generation, technology transfer etc issues relevant to these two exclusive economic zones.
15. Cultural Exchange Programme for the years 2015-17: Cultural exchange may be termed cultural reunion programme. Because we have almost similar culture in bother the sides. Bangladeshi viewers are enjoying all the TV programmes broadcast by every Indian channel and paying a large amount of royalties out of it. Therefore a profitable exchange of broadcasting culture could be organized to make the issue mutually beneficial.
16. Statement of Intent on Bangladesh-India Education Cooperation (adoption): Bangladesh has many things to learn from India in terms of educational advancement. Therefore this cooperation should be based on demand-driven and objective-oriented which could benefit both the countries equally and meaningfully.
17. Agreement between Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company Limited (BSCCL) and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) for leasing of international bandwidth for Internet at Akhaura: Till now Bangladeshi users are paying more than any other state of the region to use internet bandwidth with a comparatively low speedy connection. Demand for internet bandwidth is rising day by day in Bangladesh. This demand will geometrically increase if proper infrastructure and environment could be created for outsourcing/freelancing business in Bangladesh. Therefore before signing any deal to export internet bandwidth government should be careful about local demand, providing high speed internet to the local consumers at village level first. If there is an electricity connection in a house there should also be a high speed internet connection in that house.
18. Memorandum of Understanding between University of Dhaka, Bangladesh and University of Jamia Milia Islamia, India and Memorandum of Understanding between University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh and University of Jamia Milia Islamia, India: Any cooperation between educational institutions of both the countries must be mutually beneficial for both the nations.
19. Handing over of Consent Letter by Insurance Development and Regulatory Authority (IDRA), Bangladesh to Life Insurance Cooperation (LIC), India to start operation in Bangladesh: Operation of Indian life insurance companies in Bangladesh could have both positive and negative effects. Positive effects could be employment generation, increasing quality of services of local insurance companies through competitiveness but as a small economy we must look after the use of the premium deposited money locally. Otherwise it could be another Hallmark issue in near future.
After a thorough discussion on all the signed agreements and MoUs it is clear that Bangladesh entertained every priority of its honorable guest, Mr Narendra Modi. But we failed to get similar facility to use Indian lands to reach Nepal and Bhutan. We also failed to have water from the Teesta or on-arrival visa facility to get into India. Without free movement of people none of the above mentioned trade agreement or cooperation could decrease existing bilateral trade gap between Bangladesh and India.