Dhaka, Delhi need "much more robust framework" for future economic ties

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Dynamic, inclusive CEPA is the name of the game

Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya has said Bangladesh and India need a “much more robust framework” for their future relations noting that changing the framework has become imperative for Bangladesh-India economic relationship.

The macroeconomist and public policy analyst said the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), now on the table, needs to be coherent, dynamic and inclusive to address the challenges ahead and help boost trade and investment between the two countries.

“CEPA has to be coherent, dynamic and inclusive. CEPA is the name of the game,” said Debapriya highlighting Bangladesh-India relations on three fronts -- leftover, built-in and emerging issues.

The former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the World Trade Organization (WTO) made the remarks while delivering his speech at a symposium titled ‘Bangladesh-India Relations: Prognosis for the Future’ held recently.

Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram Kumar Doraiswami delivered the keynote speech at the symposium. Renowned scholar-diplomat and adviser on foreign affairs to the last caretaker government Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury chaired the event hosted by the Cosmos Foundation, philanthropic arm of the Cosmos Group.

Chairman of the Cosmos Foundation Enayetullah Khan delivered the opening remarks at the event.

An array of experts from Bangladesh and India -- former Ambassador Tariq A. Karim, Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore Prof C. Raja Mohan, Dhaka University Prof Imtiaz Ahmed, former Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS) President Maj Gen (retd) A. N. M. Muniruzzaman, CPD Executive Director Dr Fahmida Khatun, Brig. Gen. (retd) Shahedul Anam Khan and former Indian Foreign Secretary Krishnan Srinivasan -- were brought together for the online symposium to assess the state of relations between the two countries and identify the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the effort to take it forward.

The noted economist said the leftover issues are very well known to all -- water, border security issues and others which will have to deal with successfully.

He said the built-in issues are essentially the trade, investment, connectivity and all other issues. “We can’t escape from these issues.”

Debapriya said the third set of issues is the emerging issues that include IT, financial inclusions and many other issues.

The renowned economist said they need a framework within which all these three types of issues can be addressed. “We need a framework which will also address the current emphasis of our cooperation on the economic front.”

He said Bangladesh and India have achieved quite a lot in the recent past, especially over the last 10 years, with a move from trade focus to more on connectivity one.

“What’s important to make the next step?” he said, highlighting the importance of investment focus -- the production value chain issue.

Debapriya said Bangladesh cannot solve its leftover issues without improving the space for negotiation.

Highlighting Bangladesh’s economic growth, Debapriya said Bangladesh deserves a “less than full reciprocity” in the relationship as it goes.

He said dealing with the external issue, one of the understated dimensions of Indo-Bangla relationship, is how Bangladesh is cooperating with India or how India is cooperating with Bangladesh at the global stage.

Debapriya said India has to be a part of the smooth transition of LDC graduation of Bangladesh, and said India has provided duty- and quota-free market access which helped Bangladesh’s exports to India cross US$ 1.2 billion-dollar mark.

“I think India has to continue with the duty- and quota-free market access in line with other markets providers like the European, Canada and Australia,” the economist said.

He added that this is a declaration that will continue to support Bangladesh with duty- and quota-free market access for the export of garments at least in three years, not nine years, in line with WTO proposals. It will be a great service and it will continue greatly to strengthen the relationship.

CPD Executive Director Dr Fahmida Khatun said the relationship between Bangladesh and India is covering a wide range of aspects, including trade, investment, power and energy; communication, health, education and culture.

She said the collaboration between the two countries perceives an important factor, not only for the two countries but also for enhancing South Asian cooperation.

Fahmida said they need to understand the challenges and identify the opportunities through concrete actions by both the countries.

The economist laid emphasis on the issue of harnessing advantage of closer bilateral cooperation and leveraging this cooperation to ensure strengthening regional and global integration of the economy.

The CPD economist said Bangladesh needs reimaging its own policies, strategies and options during this journey.

As a large neighbour, she said, India can feature prominently through extending support and cooperation in a number of areas and noted that in the last decade, there were a number of initiatives towards depending bilateral cooperation in different areas, including trade and goods, services, energy, and multimodal transport connectivity, cross-border trade, capacity building, deepening people-to-people connectivity, and also security measures.

“For Bangladesh, there’re many trade-related challenges. One of the important challenges is to make greater use of Indian offer of duty- and quota-free market access. It’s still underutilised,” Fahmida said, adding that there is a huge trade gap, too.

Statistics showed that trade and economic cooperation between India and Bangladesh is much lower than its full potential, she added.

According to the World Bank Study, Bangladesh and India trade economic potential is almost $16 billion, but the actual trade is around $10 billion.

Fahmida said the cost of trading is very high due to lack of trade facilitation and logistic shortcoming.

She said the future relationship between Bangladesh and India will depend on how the challenges are addressed by both the counties.

India’s Proactive Role Sought

Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS) President Maj Gen (retd) ANM Muniruzzaman has sought a more proactive role from India in resolving the Rohingya crisis.

“We need a more proactive role from India in solving the Rohingya crisis,” he said while speaking at the symposium titled ‘Bangladesh-India Relations: Prognosis for the Future’ held virtually recently.

In reply, Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram Kumar Doraiswami, who delivered the keynote speech, said they fully support the idea of “safe, sustainable and expedited” return of the displaced people back to Myanmar. “I can’t see how it can be doubted in any way.”

He said the presence of Rohingyas is not in Bangladesh’s interest, not in the region's interest, and certainly it is not in India’s interest. “The point is that they need to go back.”

However, former Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty said India, which shares a border with Bangladesh and Myanmar, cannot fully support Bangladesh over the Rohingya issue due to its internal problem and national interests.

“On Myanmar, my point is that India’s ambivalence should be understood in the context of India’s national inserts. We can’t swing into absolute support and favour for Bangladesh,” he said.

Pinak said he will not get into details but the people who know will understand the situation. “We’ve an insurgency problem in the northeast and we’ve our own problems and difficulties in dealing with Myanmarees on the Rohingya issue,” he said.

Bangladesh and Myanmar signed the repatriation deal on November 23, 2017. On January 16, 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a document on ‘Physical Arrangement’, which was supposed to facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland.

Bangladesh says the Rohingyas do not trust their government, and Bangladesh gave a number of proposals to build trust among them.

Bangladesh is trying in multiple ways -- bilaterally, multilaterally, tri-laterally and through the judicial system -- to find a lasting solution to the Rohingya crisis.

Bangladesh proposed deployment of nonmilitary civilian observers from Myanmar’s friendly countries -- Japan, China, Russia, India and Asean countries.

During her meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 27, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina requested India, as a member of the United Nations Security Council, to play a “strong role” in the early repatriation of the displaced Rohingyas back to Myanmar.

The two leaders reiterated the importance of safe, speedy and sustainable return of Rohingyas to their homeland for the greater security of the region.

Modi expressed appreciation at the generosity of Bangladesh in sheltering and providing humanitarian assistance to the 1.1 million forcibly displaced persons from the Rakhine State of Myanmar.

Border Killing

On border killing, Doraiswami said he repeatedly said this is a complex phenomenon that requires a far greater effort, including by district governance on both sides and by border guards on both sides.

He said people do need to recognise that a fair number of the people who get killed on the border, most unfortunately, are also Indian people on the Indian side of the border.

Former High Commissioner Pinak said border killing is an issue of joint responsibility. “Alleging and pointing fingers at India all the time don’t help resolve the problem and don’t help create the public perception in India.”

He said the main reason behind the border killing is that a huge smuggling network and a huge mafia operating on both sides of the borders which should be addressed jointly.

Muniruzzaman said border killing is one of the major irritants in the bilateral relations between the two close neighbours. “It’s something which is not accepted by the people of Bangladesh.”

Water Sharing

Muniruzzaman said the Teesta water-sharing is a problem that needs to be addressed as it has been lying without a solution for too long.

“It’s not only Teesta water sharing, we need agreements and water sharing mechanisms of all other 53 common rivers with India,” he said.

On March 27, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina reiterated Bangladesh’s long-pending request for concluding the interim agreement on the sharing of the waters of the Teesta River for the fair share of the Teesta water to alleviate the sufferings of millions.

It is necessary that Bangladesh receives its fair share of the Teesta water, the draft agreement of which has already been agreed upon by both governments in January 2011 to alleviate the sufferings and save the livelihoods of millions of people dependent on the Teesta river basin, she underscored.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi reiterated India’s sincere commitment and continued efforts to conclude this agreement in consultation with relevant stakeholders.

Muniruzzaman said Bangladesh and India have been passing through the honeymoon period of bilateral relationship as it is now at its peak.

“But all the relationships need to be nurtured, and that’s a way we should follow. As we look at the future which is extremely difficult to predict, we’ll have to pave a way for a smooth relationship in the future. So, it’s necessary to analyse the current irritants in the relationship that can become obstacles as we move towards the future for bilateral relations,” he said.

Muniruzzaman said the vaccine nationalism that has been seen in India is a major irritant to the people of Bangladesh and India should resolve the problem over ensuring the vaccines to Bangladesh since the country paid money for it in advance. “That’s an issue that needs to be addressed.”

The security expert also thinks there are India’s some internal political issues like Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens that can have an implication on the bilateral ties and these issues need to be addressed.

He said the relationship has to be built with the people of the two countries in a more holistic and comprehensive way.

Former Bangladesh High Commissioner to India Tariq A Karim said Bangladesh and India can never dream of having an adverse or a hostile relationship with each other due to their geographical positions.

With additional reporting by AR Jahangir & Rafikul Islam

  • for future economic ties
  • much robust framework
  • Dhaka, Delhi need
  • Rohingya Crisis
  • Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD)

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