Bangladesh

Hasina to talk about Teesta transit during SAARC Summit

Nov 10, 2011

-Nizam Ahmed

Sharing of water of common rivers including Teesta , bilateral trade and transit are likely to dominate the talks when prime ministers of Bangladesh and India meet exclusively in Addu Atoll island in the Maldives during SAARC Summit.Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Dr. Manmohan Singh are scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the two-day 17th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)

The meeting of the two prime ministers will be the second in less than two and a half months after Dr. Manmohan Singh visited Dhaka on September 6 and 7 to sign a set of deals including sharing of water of the river Teesta and transit for India to its northeastern states via Bangladesh, which were postponed at the last moment."Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will definitely raise the Teesta river issue at the talks on the margins of the eight-nation SAARC summit," prime minister's Press Secretary Abul Kalam Azad told the FE.

Bilateral trade and the transitissue are also likely to be discussed, officials at the Prime Minister's Office and the foreign ministry said.They said Bangladesh was yet to formally provide road and rail transit to India, although a river transit facility has been prevailing since a protocol was signed in 1980 on the basis of a 1972 trade agreement between the two countries.

"Not only Teesta, I'll also discuss water sharing of other 53 common rivers with the Indian prime minister," Hasina told reporters."Besides, several other bilateral issues will also be discussed with India during the SAARC meet," the prime minister told the reception held to celebrate the Eid-ul-Azha.

The two prime ministers are likely to review bilateral ties and discuss the implementation of projects identified under the $1 billion line of credit India had pledged to Bangladesh during Sheikh Hasina's visit to New Delhi in 2010, Indian media said quoting official sources.On Saturday, Indian foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai said in New Delhi that Hasina and Singh could hold discussions on the tasks left 'unfinished' during the latter's tour to Dhaka in early September, when they met at the SAARC Summit.

Officials of the foreign and shipping ministries in Bangladesh confirmed that no road or rail transit was provided to India so far, but a river transit protocol was in force since 1980.However a recent transportation of some Indian consignment from Ashuganj river port, where those were unloaded from vessels, to Agartala land port created confusion among traders and observers.

Shipping ministry later said the goods moved to India via Ashuganj under the 1980 river protocol in which the Ashuganj transshipment point was incorporated, in 2010.However experts and critics said it was the complete failure of transparency on the part of the government as it had not clarified its position.

Dr. Manmohan Singh during his Dhaka visit announced quota-free and duty-free access for 46 garment products from Bangladesh, setting garment exporters in upbeat mood.However knitwear exporters informed recently that Indian authorities imposed a sort of tax discouraging Indian importers to buy Bangladeshi products."All these issues may come up in the talks between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Prime Minister Mahmohan Sing," a foreign ministry official said.

Even a Bangladeshi battery manufacturer has been barred from setting up a factory in Tripura recently, showing different barriers of tariff, non-tariff and para-tariff, traders said.Bangladesh imports goods worth over US$4.6 billion while export its merchandise worth nearly $600 million. The trade gap is highly tilted in favour of the neighbouring country ever since the independence of Bangladesh.

The SAARC countries expect to sign four agreements on implementation of regional standards (IRS), multilateral arrangement on recognition of conformity assessment, rapid response to natural disasters and establishment of SAARC Seed Bank, officials said.

India expects to move forward on the process of liberalisation of trade under the SAFTA and will work to promote greater integration and development of a South Asian identity at the forthcoming SAARC summit beginning in the Maldives today (Thursday), Indian media said on Wednesday.

The US State Department says Assistant Secretary of State, Robert O. Blake, will lead the US delegation to the 2011 South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in the Maldives.As the theme of the SAARC meeting is "Building Bridges," it gives Washington the opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to engaging with South Asia on shared interests and challenges.

They include regional economic cooperation and integration along the New Silk Road, breaking down barriers to trade and travel, and improving people-to-people linkages.The US has enjoyed observer nation status at SAARC since 2007.

Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are the members of SAARC which has given observer status to Australia, China, Burma, European Union, Japan, Iran, Mauritius, South Korea and the United States so far.

(Financial Express)

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