Dhaka, Delhi sign important transit pact (Third Lead)

February 9th, 2009 - 10:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Feb 9 (IANS) Overriding political opposition at home, Bangladesh Monday signed an agreement that would permit India road and rail transit facilities to enable it to connect with its isolated northeastern region.

A “basic agreement” signed during the day-long visit of Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, to be followed by a separate protocol, marks a major step forward in bilateral ties between the South Asian neighbours and could have far reaching impact on their economies.

The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has threatened an agitation over the issue.

To tide over the protests, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government signed the pact precisely on the lines of the Indo-Bangla Trade Deal of 2006, signed when BNP chief Khaleda Zia visited India.

The 2006 trade pact is due to expire next month and marks renewal for three years.

Both the countries resolved to cooperate closely on economic ties.

Bangladesh Commerce Minister, Col. (retd.) Faruk Khan said Monday evening: “The eighth clause of the deal allows both countries to transport goods through each other’s road, rail and waterways, but a separate agreement or protocol has to be signed for that.”

“Experts from both countries will discuss the details before finalising the protocol,” the minister told reporters after the framework deal was inked by Khan and Mukherjee.

The Indo-Bangla trade deal was first signed in 1980 and its 13th clause requires the signatories to renew it every three years.

On a day-long hectic visit, Mukherjee held a 75-minute talk with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with whom he enjoys a good rapport. Mukherjee was accompanied by Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and Indian High Commissioner Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty.

Present along with Hasina were Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, State Minister Hasan Mahmud, State Minister for Home Affairs Tanjim Ahmed Sohel Taj, Foreign Secretary M. Touhid Hossain and other officials.

About the newly signed ‘framework agreement’, Khan said: “Transportation of commodities through roads, rail and waterways are allowed in it. Stoppages, customs check-posts and transportation charges are fixed in the deal and approved types of goods are also defined clearly.”

Bangladesh wants to allow transit facility in return for access to Bhutan and Nepal.

Trade deficit, duty-free access for Bangladeshi products and assistance in boosting trade with Bhutan and Nepal figured in the bilateral talks with the Indian minister.

About the opposition parties opposing the deal, Khan said: “We are not signing a new deal and trade should not be used as a political tool.”

Bangladesh has a trade balanced heavily against it to the tune of $1.19 billion.

Khan also clarified that a proposed South Asian anti terrorism task force would not be confined to Bangladesh and India, but would be a joint force of all eight SAARC members.

The idea, mooted by the Hasina government that took office last month, has qualified approval of the US.

The two sides after the ministerial talks signed two pacts on bilateral trade and bilateral investment protection.

“These would further strengthen the framework for trade and investment between both countries,” Mukherjee said at a joint press conference with Moni.

This is the first high-level visit from India to Bangladesh since Sheikh Hasina, known for her pro-India views, assumed office early this year after winning a landslide victory in the December 2008 parliamentary polls.

“As a close and friendly neighbour, India warmly welcomes the return to multi-party democratic politics in Bangladesh and looks forward to closely working with the newly elected government under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to further strengthen the ties between both countries,” Mukherjee said.

Underlining India’s hope for better security cooperation with Bangladesh under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina, Mukherjee urged Bangladesh to combat terrorism jointly.

“An area of concern for both countries is to combat the growing menace of extremism and terrorism in the region. Closer cooperation on security issues is the need of the hour,” he said.

The Bangladeshi side backed Mukherjee’s call for jointly combating terrorism, official sources said.

Mukherjee’s visit to Dhaka comes at a time when an internal Pakistani probe has reportedly found the links between a militant group in Bangladesh and the Mumbai terror strikes in India.

Mukherjee also unveiled the model of the 2,800 core shelters, which India would be constructing soon in the 11 villages affected by cyclone ‘Sidr’ in Nov 2007.

India has already provided Bangladesh aid including cash assistance of $10 million, essential items including rice and milk powder worth $40 million. In the aftermath of the 2007 cyclone, India sent an emergency relief package of essential commodities and waived ban on export by sending 500,000 tonnes of rice to Bangladesh.

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