Bangladesh Foreign Minister’s visit to New Delhi: Will it be fruitful?

Bangladesh Foreign Minister’s visit to New Delhi: Will it be fruitful?

On 18th September, Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali leaves for New Delhi for a four day visit to attend the third meeting of Bangladesh–India Joint Consultative Commission with his counterpart. This will be the first visit of a senior cabinet minister of Bangladesh to New Delhi after BJP formed the government last May in New Delhi.

The meeting of the Joint Consultative Commission takes place under the Indo-Bangladesh Framework Agreement on Cooperation for Development signed on 6th September 2011.

The purpose of the meeting led by the two Foreign Ministers is to overview the totality of relations including the progress of the implementation of the promised deals between the two countries in all sectors of cooperation.

The visit is important for Bangladesh because it will get a picture about the time-frame within which the BJP government is to resolve the pending priority issues for Bangladesh. Further it will provide the attitude of the Modi government toward a regional or sub-regional approach where all its neighbours are on board for commonality of interests on issues, such as climate change, energy, water sharing and management, food security and counter-terrorism.

It is reported that Bangladesh Prime Minister is likely to meet her Indian counterpart Modi for the first time on 27th September in New York where both Prime Ministers will be there for the G.A. session of the UN.

Following the visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister in January 2010, Dhaka has moved quickly to address Delhi’s concerns on cross-border terrorism and connectivity to the North-East, while the implementation of the bargain on the Indian side has not been met, especially in water-sharing of the Teesta and Feni Rivers as well as on the implementation of the Land Border Protocol including exchange of enclaves and adverse possessions of lands.

Bangladesh is hopeful that BJP government with its huge mandate will be able to resolve the pending issues and thus facilitate the visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister to visit to India. Ms. Sushma Swaraj, India’s External Affairs Minister, during her brief visit to Dhaka in June , said India’s development could not be complete and sustainable unless they successfully partnered with their immediate neighbours. She also said that comprehensive and equitable partnership with Bangladesh was essential for a stable, secure and prosperous South Asia. In plain language she meant that since most of the bilateral issues are interconnected, solution has to be in a total package. Some suspect that implementation of border agreement could be linked with Bangladesh’s action to halt the so-called Bangladeshi illegal immigrants to India.

Among the topics, Bangladesh is likely raise the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s visit to India, the signing of the Teesta Agreement, ratification of the Land Boundary Agreement, zero-border killings of Bangladeshi civilians, up-gradation of border infrastructure, removal of para-tariff and non-tariff barriers for Bangladeshi goods to India, status on Line of Credit from India and Indian plan for river-linking project of the Himalayan Rivers.

From Indian side, security, eviction of insurgents of northeastern India allegedly hiding in Bangladesh, illegal migrants from Bangladesh in India, trade and connectivity through Bangladesh to northeastern states of India by road and river, bridge over Feni River use of Chittagong and Mongla seaports for movement of goods to and from India and removal of travelling tax for Indian visitors to Bangladesh, among others are likely to be discussed.

Trade deficit for Bangladesh with India is huge. It is no more an economic issue but has turned into a political one in the country. Exports to India declined 19 percent year-on-year to $456.63 million in fiscal 2013-14. But exports were supposed to increase as the Indian government offered Bangladesh duty-free benefit for all products except 25 alcoholic and beverage items since November 2012.

It is pointed out that paragraph 33 of the Joint Communique after the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s visit in January 2010 states clearly: “ With a view to encouraging imports from Bangladesh, both countries agreed to address removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers and port restrictions and facilitate movement of containerized cargo by rail and water.”

Researchers in both countries have found that Bangladesh has a potential export market of $2 billion in India. Some researchers have suggested to increase imports from Bangladesh, some steps such as, (a) India should recognise the principle of asymmetry and non-reciprocity in trade with Bangladesh, (b) there should be guaranteed market access of Bangladeshi products to India (liberal rules of origin,) (c) no tariff and non-tariff barriers and (d) export quality Bangladeshi products should not be in India’s negative list, These measures will hardly dent India’s large economy or market.

The two Ministers may review the progress of sub-regional cooperation in water, power, connectivity and transit between Bangladesh and Nepal and Bhutan through Indian territory as envisaged by the Indo-Bangladesh Framework Agreement of 2011

In dealing with bilateral issues, it is noted that the gains in each and every case are unlikely to be equal to Bangladesh and India. . Bangladesh may gain more than India in some area and reverse might be the case in other area. To evaluate the differential gains for each country in dissimilar areas or sectors to reach a reasonably acceptable overall balance is not an easy exercise. It is a challenge for Bangladesh and India delegations to recognise the value of short and long -term gains.

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