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Hope for Bangla trade pact

New Delhi, July 15: India and Bangladesh have agreed to begin talks on a free trade agreement later this year in an attempt to urgently tap “the vast trade and investment opportunities” and narrow their wide trade gap.

The huge trade imbalance in favour of India has long been a major grouse for Bangladesh. The lack of easy access to Indian markets and the existence of non-tariff barriers have made it even more difficult for Bangladeshi goods to be competitive across the border.

But if the proposed free trade agreement does come about, it will help remove those hurdles and narrow the trade gap.

“It is gratifying to note that Bangladesh has agreed to initiate discussions on the agreement this September-October,” said Yashwant Sinha, while chairing the sixth meeting of the joint economic commission in Dhaka today.

Speaking at a luncheon in his honour at the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the foreign minister said the discussions began on a “positive note”. He added that the entire gamut of relations, especially economic and commercial issues, had been discussed. Copies of Sinha’s speech were made available in Delhi.

“Our discussions have been very fruitful and we hope we will be able to take necessary steps soon to strengthen our multi-faceted cooperation,” the minister said.

He pointed out that some headway had been made on the trade agreement due to the encouraging example of a similar pact between India and Sri Lanka. That agreement had resulted in a multi-fold rise in Sri Lankan exports to India and had increased the island’s export basket through the addition of new items.

Referring to Bangladesh’s complaint about the heavy trading imbalance in India’s favour, Sinha said Dhaka is Delhi’s sixth largest trading partner.

“We are alive to the concerns of the business community of Bangladesh, especially regarding trade imbalance,” the minister said.

“I am confident that given goodwill and sincerity on both sides, these issues can be addressed sincerely and in a spirit of cooperation and friendship for mutual benefits,” he added.

A number of bilateral issues, including border skirmishes and trans-shipment facilities for Indian goods, were discussed at the commission meeting.

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