Economists and experts on Thursday said that Bangladesh should establish a trade relationship with India which will include trade facilitation, investment, connectivity and trade in services instead of emphasising only trade in goods.
At a dialogue on the Bangladesh-India trade relationship — New Opportunities, New Challenges — they said that Bangladesh should look for any other alternative trade framework and tackle the problem of non-tariff barriers rather than sign a Free Trade Agreement with India.
The Centre for Policy Dialogue organised the dialogue in collaboration with the World Bank at BRAC Centre Inn’s auditorium.
Sanjay Kathuria, the World Bank’s lead economist to Bangladesh, and Selim Raihan, associate professor of the economics department of Dhaka University, presented the keynote paper based on the World Bank’s study, wherein they said that trade relationship between Bangladesh and India would be intensified if both the countries sign an FTA.
Most of the participants opposed the idea and said that there is no necessity of signing an FTA with India as most of Bangladesh’s products get duty-free access to the Indian market.
They also raised questions about the intention of the WB which advocates the signing of an FTA with India, though it had said in its earlier study, conducted in 2006, that both the countries would not be benefited from signing an FTA.
Prime minister’s foreign affairs adviser Gowhar Rizvi said that Bangladesh has a huge trade imbalance with India, and encouraging investment in Bangladesh from India will remedy such an imbalance.
‘Bangladesh will have to prove itself to be an attractive place for foreign direct investment and create a profitable environment for investors, and the government has been doing so,’ he claimed.
Terming some non-tariff barriers as the major impediment to export to India, Rizvi said that the government and economists have to identify non-trade barriers for Bangladeshi exporters to India and take measures to remove them through dialogue with that country, he added.
Commerce secretary Ghulam Hossain said that Bangladeshi products have been getting duty-free access to the Indian market.
‘So I do not understand why the question of signing an FTA with India comes up,’ he said. ‘We should rather try to remove the non-tariff barriers which are too stringent for Bangladeshi exporters.’
CPD’s distinguished fellow Debapriya Bhattacharya said that Bangladesh could not absorb the advantage of an FTA’s without trade facilitation and taking the relationship in regional connectivity beyond bilateral relationship.
Bangladesh’s economic development will be hampered if the country is deprived of trade potential in the big economy of India, he said.
Former education minister and BNP leader Osman Faruque said that Bangladeshi exporters face a lot of non-tariff barriers in exporting to India and signing an FTA would not work without removal of those barriers.
He also said that the government should consider connectivity more regionally, encompassing not only India but other South Asian countries.
Ambassador Faruk Sobhan said that both the countries should address the non-tariff barriers such as certification and standard issues, infrastructure development in ports and trade facilitation issues.
CPD’s senior research fellow Khondaker Golam Moazzem said that the government should mull over some issues like protecting the local industries, production network, revenue loss, employment generation and the relationship with China before signing an FTA with India.
There are some more important issues for Bangladesh including removal of non-tariff barriers, ensuring more trade facilitation, trade diversion and better connectivity, he said.
CPD executive director Mustafizur Rahman, former chairman of the Bangladesh Tariff Commission Mozibur Rahman, former commerce secretary Sohel Ahmed Chowdhury, ambassador Ashfaqur Rahman, Major General (retd) AMSA Amin, chief of Gonoshasthaya Kendra Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury, BTC’s joint chief Mostafa Abid Khan, along with others, spoke at the programme.