The new government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday approved a proposed bilateral investment development and protection agreement and decided to renew a 1980 trade agreement with India, apparently paving ways for signing a transit deal with the neighbour.
A cabinet meeting with Hasina in the chair approved the deals, which officials said could be signed during the visit of External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee next week.
The scheduled two-day visit of Mukherjee could be reduced to a one-day tour in view of his extra responsibilities because of the ailment of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, diplomatic and foreign ministry sources said here.
"The government is ready to sign more such agreements in the interests of the country and people's welfare," Hasina briefly told reporters after the meeting.
The joint trade and investment agreement would allow businessmen from the two countries to invest in businesses on both sides of the border.
The 1980 treaty is a bilateral trade agreement, which is being renewed after three years. The BNP government of late President Ziaur Rahman signed it 28 years ago with New Delhi.
Under the treaty, the two governments had agreed to make mutually beneficial arrangement for the use of their waterways, roadways and railways for commerce between the two countries.
"In 1980, this deal was signed by President Ziaur Rahman and later on March 21, 2006 it was renewed by the then finance minister Saifur Rahman (of BNP) for three years," Hasina's press Secretary Abul Kalam Azad told reporters.
The deal has 13 clauses while the clause 8 specifies the use of waterways, railways and roads.
"The two governments agreed to make mutually beneficial agreements for the use of their waterways, roadways, railways for commerce between the two countries for passage of goods between places in one country through the territory of the other's," the clause read.
The development came as BNP and several other rightwing groups demanded that the government should hold an open debate on the idea of signing an agreement with India allowing it land transit.
"We want to get down to the nitty-gritty of transit and share ideas with the people ... BNP would not accept approval of a transit 'deal' by the 'rubber stamp' parliament," BNP secretary general Khondker Delwar Hossain said recently.
New Delhi has long been pursuing the transit issue which resurfaced in recent weeks as Mukherjee is set to visit Dhaka. Indian envoy Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty said the transit issue was likely to be a major agenda during the next week's visit.
Commerce Minister Jairam Ramesh during a recent visit here had raised the "transit or transshipment" proposal, preferring to call it "connectivity", saying Bangladesh could earn US$ 1.2 billion by allowing only two corridors, Kolkata-Guwahati and Kolkata-Agartala.