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Decision on FTA with India, Pakistan, Lanka likely today

Daily Star, Dhaka

Decision on FTA with India, Pakistan, Lanka likely today

By Jasim Uddin Khan

3 August 2008

The government will finally take a decision in a meeting today on signing of a free trade agreement (FTA) with its neighbouring trading partners India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

All the three countries are keen to ink such a pact in order to expand trade relations in the region.

The crucial meeting, due at the Ministry of Commerce with Finance Adviser MirzaAzizul Islam in the chair, will be represented by the officials from the ministries concerned.

Bangladesh Foreign Trade Institute (BFTI) has complied a report on the possible risks for Bangladesh in signing such an agreement. Additionally, Dr Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Dr Ananya Raihan, executive director of D-net, Selima Chowdhury Zahir, research fellow of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) and Dr Selim Raihan, associate professor at Dhaka University, have expressed opinions on the FTA to the ministry.

The government will review the opinions and research papers along with another research conducted by The World Bank, prior to taking the policy decision, ministry sources said.

According to the sources, most of the trade experts supported signing of FTA with the neighbouring countries, but suggested adding new products beyond those items already entitled to duty-free facilities under Safta (South Asian Free Trade Agreement).

“The goods which already get duty reduction under Safta should not be considered under the FTA negotiations. The government should bargain for facilities for new products,” Mustafizur Rahman of CPD said.

He said special and deferential treatment (S&D) and relaxed rules of origin could be the important focus for the proposed FTA.

As the country has achieved little from many multilateral and regional deals, the government plans to improve its two-way trade with major trading partners, sources said.

As part of the plan, the government initially eyes an FTA with India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

"Bangladesh has to consider bilateral free trade agreements with its trading partners as regional agreements, such as Safta, fail to yield expected results," said Commerce Secretary Feroz Ahmed.

Many countries are now going for bilateral free trade deals, although they have many regional and multilateral trading agreements in place, he added.