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Bangladesh to vet free trade pacts

Indo-Asian News Service (IANS)

Bangladesh to vet free trade pacts

By Farid Ahmed, Indo-Asian News Service

14 July 2005

Dhaka, July 14 (IANS) Bangladesh has decided to appoint an international trade consultant to vet trade proposals with South Asian countries to ensure they are beneficial for Dhaka.

The government has said it will not resume negotiations for bilateral free trade agreements (FTA) with South Asian countries, including India, unless such pacts had a positive impact on Bangladesh’s exports, the New Age daily reported Thursday quoting commerce ministry officials.

"We must first find out whether a bilateral FTA agreement with any SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) country will bear positive result for Bangladesh before resuming negotiations," the newspaper quoted commerce secretary Siddiqur Rahman as saying.

"We will soon appoint a consultant to have a concrete idea on the possible implications of a bilateral agreement with any of the SAARC countries," he continued.

The government has decided to appoint an international trade consultant to study the pros and cons of bilateral FTAs between Bangladesh and other South Asian countries.

The commerce secretary confirmed that India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka had recently approached the government for the resumption of negotiations on bilateral trade agreements.

"We have apprised the interested countries that the next round of FTA talks will resume only after the proposed study is completed," said Rahman.

Bangladesh had the first round of bilateral FTA talks with India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 2003. The second round with India was held in New Delhi March 23-24, 2004.

The Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other major business organisations have long been pressing the government to go for bilateral FTAs with the SAARC countries, especially India.

The metropolitan chamber argues that Bangladesh cannot reap the expected benefit from the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement without an FTA deal with India.

However, Finance and Planning Minister M. Saifur Rahman and some influential members of the cabinet are against bilateral free trade agreements.

The minister has claimed that the local industrial base will be hit hard if and when the bilateral agreements, especially with India, come into effect.

He has also urged the Indian government to allow Bangladeshi products duty-free and hassle-free access to its market for six months as a test case before the signing of a bilateral agreement. Bangladesh has trade gaps with all other SAARC countries.

The study by the trade consultant will come up with specific reasons why Bangladesh should sign an FTA with any SAARC country regardless of the SAFTA, which is likely to take effect from January 6, 2006.