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Zia visit a failure?

Even as the Bangladesh Govt hailed Khaleda Zia's India visit, the media focused on the lack of any positive outcome.
None | By Indo-Asian News Service, Dhaka
PUBLISHED ON MAR 25, 2006 01:42 PM IST

While the Bangladesh government has hailed Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's India visit as "a great success and a turning point in promoting stronger bilateral relations", the media focused on the lack of any positive outcome especially on the economic front.

Foreign secretary Hemayetuddin "blew off a metaphoric observation that Bangladesh suffered an 'innings defeat' to Indian diplomacy by not getting any specific assurance from India of removing non-tariff barriers... while Dhaka agreed on the Indian proposal for greater connectivity through bus and train services," The Bangladesh Observer reported.

Zia was on a three-day visit to India from March 20-22. She met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other senior leaders.

Hemayet, who faced a volley of questions about any precise outcome of the visit in resolving the outstanding problems, including a widening trade deficit, said the summit "did not discuss small details" of the issues but gave directives for resolving them through frequent interactions.

The Joint Economic Commission, the Joint River Commission and the Joint Working Group on border would meet soon to hammer out the solutions, United News of Bangladesh quoted Hemayetuddin as telling the journalists.

Asked about specific instructions from the Indian leadership about removal of trade barriers to reduce the widening trade gap - a big concern for Bangladesh - Hemayetuddin said Zia sought unilateral duty-free access and withdrawal of non-tariff barriers to exports from Bangladesh.

He said Manmohan Singh had assured Zia that they would not go for any scheme that may be detrimental to Bangladesh's interest. India had also responded positively to Bangladesh's proposal for setting up a trade office in Guwahati in Assam, he said.

Editorials in Bangladeshi media generally ignored the discussions on activities of anti-India fugitives and militants and harped on economic issues.

In an editorial, The New Nation said: "Given the huge trade gap the big neighbour possibly has nothing to lose if it lifts such barriers and creates an atmosphere of confidence among Bangladeshi exporters.

"The people of the two countries cannot afford to continue to suffer due to historical mistrusts that they have inherited. Some courageous moves are thus the needs of the hour to start a new era of friendship and cooperation between the two countries."

Hemayetuddin disagreed with the suggestion that Bangladesh had given transit facility to India through signing the revised trade agreement. He said the usage of Bangladesh waterways by India has been there since 1972 while train communications are a confidence-building measure.

Asked why despite series of meetings of the Joint Working Group and the JEC, the outstanding issues could not be solved, he said: "Now we have directives from the prime ministers."

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