Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said her government is interested to reopen the cross-border railways, abandoned following the 1965 India-Pakistan war, for stronger connectivity between Bangladesh and India in the fields of trade, investment and people-to-people contacts.
She also sought Indian cooperation so that Bangladesh can transact trade and business through Banglabandh and Burimari land port routes with Nepal and Bhutan.
The PM made the remarks when a 50-member business delegation from the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) led by its vice-president Harsh C Mariwala had a meeting with her at the prime ministers office yesterday.
Hasina disclosed that she already has contacted Indian Minister for Railways Mamata Banerjee about the re-run of trains along the derelict rails.
Besides, the government will take immediate effective steps to modernise the intra-country railways for communications up to the present day standards, she said.
“I have also seen the rail budget of your country [India]. You have expertise in the sector of railway communications. We need your help in this regard,” she told the business leaders.
The PM informed the delegation that all land ports located on the Bangladesh-India boarder will be developed and other necessary infrastructures set up there gradually to boost bilateral trade between the two countries.
Besides, the present government has a plan to develop Mongla seaport as part of the government’s massive plan to turn Bangladesh into a prosperous modern country by 2021.
As the Indian business delegation requested the PM for setting up special economic zones in the boarding areas exclusively for Indian investment, she said the government has already planned to build such zones where, like others, Indian businessmen can also make their investment.
She said there are EPZs in Comilla, Feni and Syedpur (Uttara EPZ) and the Indian businessmen could invest in these EPZs as these are close to the border regions.
Regarding special economic zone for Indian investment, she said, “If the Indian businessmen come forward to set up such zones in Bangladesh, the present government will extend all necessary cooperation.”
In such special zoning, the present government will prefer labour intensive industries as the government is strongly committed to removing unemployment problem from the country.
Hasina reaffirmed her government’s stand on promoting public-private partnership for rapid and sustainable development.
Regarding open markets, the PM said all windows to trade and business should remain open, but at the same time, greater interest of the people will have to be protected.
She also emphasised sharing experiences among the South Asian countries in the fields of economy, trade, business and investment for the good of the people.
About the existing bilateral friendly relations between Bangladesh and India, Hasina said in case of the bilateral problems, these could be solved through discussion.
Hasina welcomed the Indian business delegation to Bangladesh and recalled the historic role of India during the liberation war of Bangladesh.
Singling out poverty as the main enemy of the South Asian nations, the PM said Bangladesh and its all neighbouring countries, including India at the next door, should work together to expand trade and business for balanced development of the region through eradicating poverty.
“We have resources. Our people are also very much capable and industrious. If we can work unitedly, poverty will be eliminated as well as development of all the nations will be achieved,” she told her business audience from India.
The ministers, advisers and the business leaders in the meeting emphasised the need for reducing the trade gap between Bangladesh and India.
Commerce Minister Faruk Khan identified lack of testing facilities in Bangladesh as one of the big obstacles to trade and business with India.
He said Indian authorities do not accept the testing certificates provided by the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI).
“But I can assure you that in the next six months, BSTI will be upgraded to such standards which will be accepted by the Indian authorities,” he told the meet.
Besides, Faruq emphasised removing tariff and non-tariff barriers and fostering political understanding between the two countries for a better economy of the country.
Finance Minister AMA Muhith underscored the need for increasing regional connectivity among the South Asian countries for betterment of the people.
President of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry Annisul Huq said Bangladeshi businessmen are firm to work shoulder to shoulder with the Indian businessmen for reducing the trade gap amounting to nearly about 6 billion US dollars between the two countries.
“But, at the same time, we have to have the assurance of exporting more products to India,” he said.
Huq identified lack of warehouses at the land ports and other infrastructure facilities as the barriers to expanding bilateral trade and business between Bangladesh and India.
FICCI delegation chief Mariwala also said the trade gap is the real issue to be addressed immediately.
FICCI secretary-general Dr Amit Mitra noted that India and Bangladesh have emotional attachment due to the two countries’ history and geography.
“Now time has come to turn the emotional attachment of the two countries into business, trade and investment for real prosperity of the people,” he said.
PM’s Advisers Mashiur Rahman, HT Imam and Toufiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury, Principal Secretary MA Karim, Office Secretary Mollah Waheeduzzaman, Press Secretary Abul Kalam Azad, Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, President of Tripura Chamber of Commerce and Industry ML Debnath and former FBCCI president Salman F Rahman were among others present at the meeting.
Source: The Daily Star, 22 July 2009