The Daily Star | 24 April 2022
Bangladesh wants to sign CEPA with India in a year
by Pallab Bhattacharya
As Bangladesh prepares to graduate into a developing country, its Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi has said his country is keen to clinch a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) or Free Trade Agreement (FTA) not only with India but also with Indonesia and Sri Lanka in a year.
"We want to wrap up the CEPA not only with India, which is our second-largest trading partner, as well as other countries such as Sri Lanka and Indonesia within the next one year," Munshi said.
A study on the CEPA with India will be ready by May and it will be the position paper for final negotiations, he told PTI in Kolkata on April 21.
"Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wants us to gear up and finalise these trade deals before 2026," Munshi said.
The CEPA had figured prominently during the last commerce secretary-level meeting between India and Bangladesh in New Delhi on March 4.
The meeting between Indian Commerce Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam and Bangladesh’s Senior Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce Tapan Kanti Ghosh did not set any timeline for finalising the joint study on FTA.
According to Indian officials, Munshi’s remark about the timeline for firming up the joint study by May and clinching the CEPA in a year clearly indicates a political push from Bangladesh in boosting trade with India and boldness to go ahead with the FTA.
Munshi also said Bangladesh would be interested in a BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) free trade pact, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently spoke of.
Bangladesh is set to become a developing nation in 2026 and may not qualify for the many trade benefits it currently enjoys as a least-developed country.
"We are talking very seriously about finalising this agreement with our Indian counterparts. We have found them very positive. Obviously, there is much at stake for both sides," according to Munshi.
He pointed out that Bangladesh is the second-largest exporter of ready-made garments in the world and India is a very large market.
"We are also exporting many other products to India, including ships. With 170 million people, we, too, are a large market with increasing consumer power."
In the last financial year, India exported goods worth $9.7 billion to Bangladesh and imported goods worth more than $1.4 billion from the country.
However, studies have shown that bilateral trade can be lifted to $25 billion with a free trade deal, which will help both countries expand exports.
Munshi said Bangladesh is keen to attract investments from India.
"We are in advanced talks with Tata Group that already has plants in Bangladesh, for a large automotive investment, as also with Ashok Leyland," the minister said.
He said Domino’s India has set up 25 outlets in Dhaka and plans to raise the number by more than ten-fold, besides establishing a large mother factory.
"We are looking for Indian investment, especially from West Bengal — a state with which we have a lot in common," Munshi said.
A large number of Bangladeshi firms are also keen to invest in India.
"However, we understand that there are some restrictions on the investments from neighbouring countries. Clearances are being given on a case-to-case basis," said the commerce minister, adding that Walton Group is keen to invest in India.
Walton Group of Bangladesh manufactures consumer durables, computers and telecom equipment, among others, and has a revenue of nearly $1 billion.