India has urged Bangladesh to look at bilateral trade for mutual benefit without linking it to local political considerations.
Bangladesh's exports to India could increase to $ 1 billion a year if it approved the Indian industrial group Tata's investment proposals, outgoing Indian High Commissioner Veena Sikri said.
She also urged Dhaka not to link the trade-related issues with local political factors that crop up between the two neighbours from time to time.
Her request not to view the Tata investment proposals from local political and electoral considerations stemmed from developments some weeks ago when the Bangladesh government decided to put on hold Tata's proposals worth $ 3 billion for investment in fertiliser, energy and infrastructure sectors in Bangladesh.
The government took the stand that this being an "election year" with a lot of political sensitivity attached to the proposals, they would be considered by the new government that would take office after the parliamentary elections due in January 2007.
The decision to put on hold the investment proposals of the Tatas for the time being has been criticised by donors and international financial agencies, including the Asian Development Bank.
While putting the Tata proposal on hold, Bangladesh has wooed Pakistan's Dawood Group, pursuing the latter's proposals worth $ 300 million, a tenth of the Tata's, for investment in the same sectors.
Sikri was talking to mediapersons after her farewell meeting with Commerce Minister Hafizuddin Ahmed in his office.
She has sought premature retirement and is returning to India.
Sikri said: "Bangladesh's exports to India have gone up five times from $ 50 million to $ 250 million during the last three and a half years."
As a result, the huge trade gap between the two countries has been cut sharply and it will further come down with Bangladesh's approval of the Tata's investment proposals, the newspaper said.
According to the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), the trade deficit reached $ 1,117.64 million in 2005-06 fiscal year as Bangladesh imported goods worth $1,359.60 million from India and exported only $ 241.96 million worth of goods to it.
The commerce minister stressed the need for modernising the Indian checkpoints in the land port areas so that the Bangladeshi businessmen can export their products without hassles.
On the trade barriers between the two countries, Sikri said Bangladesh and India have exchanged lists of non-tariff and para-tariff barriers in a bid to identify the trade problems.
"We are working on it. But trade issues should not be politicised. We want a positive outcome," she said.
Echoing Sikri's comments, the commerce minister said the "trade balance is very much in favour of India. So, it is vital to reduce the trade barriers between the two countries."