Published in The Bangladesh Today on Sunday, 18 September 2016
It wants transparency on transit issues
Infrastructure must for transit, BBIN’s operationalisation: CPD
Executive Director of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Prof Mustafizur Rahman on Saturday said Bangladesh’s infrastructure itself is not really ready for its own transport, and laid emphasis on building infrastructure for greater connectivity with other countries, reports UNB.
“If you really mean business and if you want to operationalise the BBIN initiative fully, you’ll have to build infrastructure,” he told a daylong roundtable at The Daily Star Centre in the city.
The Daily Star and The Institute for Policy, Advocacy, and Governance (IPAG) jointly organised the dialogue titled ‘Bangladesh- India Relations: Progress Made and the Challenges Ahead’.
Prof Rahman said connectivity has become a major issue and they think there should have been a ‘comprehensive transit and connectivity agreement’ under which all the fees and charges would have been done under a single umbrella.
“I think there’s a need for transparency,” he said adding that they have to look at the deepening of relationship from the point of views of four kinds of connectivity – trade, transport, investment and people-to-people connectivity.
“We have to look at it in a comprehensive manner. We can’t isolate one from another,” Prof Rahman said.
He laid emphasis on having a comprehensive Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) agreement between Bangladesh and India under a single window so that both countries accept the certification for more trade. “It’s a major barrier to trade between Bangladesh and India.”
The CPD Executive Director also said although India has allowed duty-free access of all goods of Bangladesh there are some provincial and other development duty on export of Bangladesh products to India.
Earlier, Prime Minister’s Economic Affairs Adviser Dr Mashiur Rahman said the government has followed as much possible the principles of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on marginal cost in setting the transit and transportation charges.
He said the government has done quite well on transit and transportation sides as long as relationship between the two countries is concerned.
Dr Rahman said if the cost of transportation across Bangladesh is higher than that of Shiliguri to northeast India then India would prefer the Shiliguri Corridor.
The economic adviser said one of the major problems of transit is that the responsibility is divided among three to four departments. “We don’t have any effective mechanism of coordination.”
He called on India to liberalising the eligible list of items that can be sold on the border markets as the number of items is limited. “Anything that India can import should be available in these markets.” CPD Chairman Prof Rehman Sobhan said there was a time when dialogues on India-Bangladesh relations had political risks, which have now shifted from there.
Noting that he has been engaged in numerous dialogues over the decades, Rehman Sobhan said they tried to make the dialogues multi-party, considering the role of the opposition that may form government anytime in the future.
“We tend to suffer from institutional amnesia,” he said, stressing continuity in dialogues and building institutional memory and involvement of civil society, business and media in the dialogues.
“Today, we operate in a different atmosphere,” Sobhan said, adding that today there is no much concern on allowing transit to India, which was once a major issue when even the educated people would say allowing transit to India would hamper the country’s sovereignty.
The Daily Star Editor and Publisher Mahfuz Anam said there has been a significant shift in political will on both sides of India and Bangladesh relations.
“How much of the political will we have been able to translate in terms of concrete efforts to improve Indo-Bangladesh relations…is something that we try to examine today,” he said.
More challenging issue for Bangladesh on the other hand is water for the fact that demand on both sides is on the rise, and there is a limited supply of it, he said adding that water sharing of the Teesta and other rivers will test the relations.