Foreign ministers of India, Bangladesh meet; review bilateral ties
India and Bangladesh on Tuesday created a high-level mechanism to monitor development projects funded by New Delhi even as Dhaka sought removal of non-tariff barriers and greater trade facilitation to enhance the export of its products.
Bangladesh’s long-standing demand for early resolution of the sharing of waters of the Teesta river and agreements on sharing of all common rivers also figured in the virtual meeting of the Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) co-chaired by external affairs minister S Jaishankar and his Bangladeshi counterpart AK Abdul Momen.
Momen also expressed the hope that India, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council during 2021-22, would play a “more meaningful role for a lasting solution to the Rohingya crisis, including their early repatriation to Myanmar in a safe and sustainable manner”, according to a statement from Bangladesh’s foreign ministry.
The two sides decided to form a “high level monitoring committee” headed by the secretary of Bangladesh’s Economic Relations Division and the Indian envoy in Dhaka to regularly review the implementation of projects under three lines of credit (LoC) agreements, a joint statement said.
Momen raised non-tariff barriers and lack of trade facilitation that he said were impeding the flow of Bangladeshi goods to India, particularly the northeastern states. The Bangladeshi side asked India to address issues related to accreditation, certification, standardisation, port restrictions and developing port infrastructure to enable further exports.
Momen also requested Jaishankar to look into export of essential commodities, such as onions, by India since it impacts the domestic market of Bangladesh. India’s recent ban on onion exports had a huge impact on prices in Bangladesh, and New Delhi subsequently allowed the movement of onion supplies already contracted for by Bangladeshi importers.
Tuesday’s JCC meeting was part of efforts by the two sides to set ties, hit by a string of irritants since last year, on an even keel. Foreign secretary Harsh Shringla had visited Dhaka in August, when he delivered a message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina.
The two ministers also agreed more steps can be taken to enhance trade and investment between India and Bangladesh, the top two economies in South Asia, such as removal of all types of barriers. The Bangladeshi side appreciated India’s decision for duty-free access of Bangladeshi products to the Indian market under the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) pact, due to which Bangladeshi exports crossed the $1-billion mark in 2018-19 though the balance of trade remains in India’s favour.
However, the sharing of waters of the Teesta river, held up by objections from the West Bengal government, continues to be an issue that Dhaka wants New Delhi to address speedily. Jaishankar noted the two sides share 54 rivers and said: “We remain committed to Teesta water-sharing and, in the meanwhile, are equally committed to move forward on other seven rivers on which data has been already shared with [the Bangladeshi] side”.
The two sides agreed to consider convening the ministerial-level meeting of the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC), which has not met since 2010.
Jaishankar thanked Bangladesh for supporting India in its election to the UN Security Council, and the joint statement said the two ministers “reiterated the importance of the safe, speedy and sustainable return to Myanmar of the forcibly displaced persons from the Rakhine state of Myanmar, currently being sheltered by Bangladesh”.
Momen emphasised that “unless the problem is resolved quickly, there are possibilities of pockets of radicalism disrupting economic growth, peace and stability in the region and requested India’s leverage to address the crisis”, the joint statement added.
Both sides also agreed to expedite work on energy projects such as the Friendship Pipeline and Maitree Super Thermal Power Project and Momen said tripartite power and energy cooperation with Nepal and Bhutan was also discussed.
The two sides also discussed defence cooperation, including training and exchanges, and called for the early implementation of a defence line of credit.