Bangladesh and Bhutan on Saturday agreed in principle to allow duty- and quota-free access of some of their products to each other’s market for mutual benefit.
“Bhutan has sought duty- and quota-free access of its 16 products to Bangladesh market, while Bangladesh wanted such access of its 10 goods to Bhutan during the official talks of the two countries,” Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque said.Haque made the disclosure while briefing reporters after the talks at the Prime Minister’s Office in the capital. PM’s Press Secretary Ihsanul Karim was also present at the briefing.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina led the Bangladesh side while her Bhutan counterpart Dr Lotay Tshering led the delegation of his country at the talks.
The Bangladesh premier told her counterpart that Dhaka will consider duty- and quota-free access of 16 Bhutanese products to Bangladesh market, the foreign secretary said.
“A positive discussion was held during the talks and it is hoped that the issue of duty- and quota-free market access will be settled as it has been in discussion for a long time,” he added.
The issue of duty and quota-free market access was also discussed during Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Bhutan in 2017, Haque said.
Sheikh Hasina also said discussion on duty and quota-free access of 10 Bangladeshi products to Bhutan will take place soon, the foreign secretary told the media.“We assume that both sides agreed in principle on the issue of duty and quota-free market access and now it has to be worked out at the technical level,” he said.
The foreign secretary said the various issues related to trade, business, connectivity and health have been given priority in the talks.
In the field of transit, he said, there is a big initiative in the region which is called Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) initiative for road and rail connectivity.
The foreign secretary mentioned that though all the four countries concerned signed the agreement, it is yet to be ratified by Bhutan parliament.
“The new Bhutan government said the bill on the initiative will be placed afresh at its Upper Senate for discussion and they are very much hopeful of passage of the bill,” he said.
The connectivity between the four countries will be strengthened further if the bill is passed by the Bhutan parliament, he said.
Haque said the Dhaka-Thimphu talks yielded five memorandum of understanding (MoUs) aimed at strengthening bilateral cooperation in the areas of health, agriculture, shipping, tourism and public administration training.
Terming “deep and historic” Bangladesh’s ties with Bhutan, he said Thimphu was the first foreign country to recognise Bangladesh on December 6 in 1971.
“This relationship is deeper than any other relations. Our ties have improved to a great extent over the years . . . The relations are deepening and widening gradually,” he said.
Haque said the trade figures between the two countries increased after the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Bhutan in 2017 and since then the people-to-people contact in the field of tourism has boosted as well.
He said the relations between the two countries are not only deepening, cooperation in different sectors including trade, commerce and tourism are also widening.
The foreign secretary said the two sides discussed the regional electricity trade as talks were already underway to produce hydropower in Bhutan and marketing that electricity in the region while Bangladesh was keen to invest in hydroelectricity in Bhutan.
“The discussion is at the advanced stage and we hope an agreement to this end will be inked soon.”
The foreign secretary said there will be a tripartite cooperation when Bhutan-produced hydroelectricity will be marketed in India and Bangladesh.
He said Bhutan also showed interest to hire Bangladeshi specialist doctors to cater their medical sector demands.
Sheikh Hasina said she will personally look into the matter as cooperation between the two countries in the field of health sector was gradually increasing with increased quota for Bhutanese students to 15 from 10 in Bangladesh medical and nursing colleges.
Haque said the Bhutanese prime minister highly appreciated Bangladesh’s pharmaceutical industry.
The Bhutanese premier, he said, also highly praised the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Lotay, who himself is a physician, also appreciated Sheikh Hasina’s daughter Saima Wazed’s great role in fighting autism.