Editorial, NewAge, February 16, 2009
EVERYONE agrees that a more integrated South Asia will be beneficial for not just the peoples of the region but the countries as well. Such integration will require more connectivity and more avenues for interaction among the peoples of the South Asian countries. One of the major avenues to this end is, of course, increased trade and commerce, once there is a political agreement for mutual cooperation and friendship. In the current context, the interconnectivity refers specifically to the relations between Bangladesh and her larger and immediate neighbour India. That there is a political commitment from the two governments to fostering friendly relations should not be in doubt, if statements and pronouncements of the two are to be taken seriously. The most obvious course to follow is forging stronger trade relationship, presumably leading to more interaction between the peoples, which we consider the primary and most important step for further integration.
The ongoing discussion about renewing a bilateral agreement and, more specifically, the protocol for water transit between Bangladesh and India, as reported in New Age on Sunday, would surely provide a crucial element towards increasing avenues of trade and commerce. However, in this regard, it must be pointed out that agreeing to an equal number of ports of call on both sides of the border and making them available for use by the other country is not sufficient or genuinely reciprocal. Considering the nature of trade and trade volume between Bangladesh and India, which is strongly skewed to India’s favour, it should be the Bangladesh government’s position to demand equal opportunity for business. It would be meaningless for Bangladesh to gain an extra port of call, in exchange for Ashuganj, if there is no scope for furthering export to India. More importantly, it is the current government’s responsibility to review decisions of the previous government and make amends, if necessary. The choice of which decisions of the previous governments to question and which ones to endorse must not be a matter of political convenience and expedience but be based, in this case, on trade interests of the country.
The negotiators representing the Bangladesh government should impress upon their Indian counterparts the importance of genuine practical reciprocity in business and commerce. It should be demonstrated that India, despite being an advanced developing country, has seldom made concessions to Bangladesh to actually assist the least developed country to increase its exports to the ever-increasing Indian market, which should have been a moral obligation. Consequently, Bangladeshi exports to India are just about a tenth of the Indian exports to Bangladesh. India has also, in the past, failed to carry out its own pledges that would indicate it harbours a friendly spirit. Beginning with the failure to reciprocate in the exchange of enclaves and the ‘experimental’ Farakka Barrage, India continues to deprive Bangladesh in more ways than one. This has only created a stronger rift among the peoples of both the countries.
To increase connectivity and interaction, travelling to and from India should be made easier for the citizens of both countries and towards that end visa requirements should be significantly relaxed, if not fully withdrawn. As far as trade matters are concerned, both sides should explore avenues to help bring about a reasonable parity in the volume of commerce and business by primarily increasing Bangladesh’s exports to India.