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Dhaka to finally sign BIMST-EC trade deal

Daily Star, Dhaka

14 March 2004

Dhaka to finally sign BIMST-EC trade deal

Tariff loss compensation issue given up

Rafiq Hasan

Dhaka is finally going to sign the Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka,
Thailand — Economic Cooperation (BIMST-EC) Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

An inter-ministerial meeting yesterday finalised the proposal for
signing the agreement for greater economic benefit, which would be
forwarded to the weekly cabinet meeting for final approval, meeting
sources said.

Bangladesh pulled out of the FTA signing in the last BIMST-EC meeting in
the Thai resort town of Phuket on February 8. Foreign Minister M
Morshed Khan led the Bangladesh delegation to the meeting.

The main barrier to Dhaka’s signing the agreement was a discord among
the member states about providing compensation to the revenue losses of
the least developed countries once the deal is sealed.

A previous cabinet meeting, however, cold shouldered the proposal of
signing the FTA. Now Dhaka is going to sign the agreement without
settling the compensation issue, sources said.

The next summit due in July would formally endorse the agreement, likely
to be signed by June and to be implemented in two phases by the year
2010 with adequate grace period for the least developed countries,
namely Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Nepal and Bhutan joined the
grouping in the last summit and the grouping would be renamed in the
coming one.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and other heads of state and government will
attend the summit in Bangkok.

Yesterday’s inter-ministerial meeting observed Bangladesh has no
alternative to signing the agreement. Textiles Minister Abdul Matin
Chowdhury who was also present at the meeting nodded in approval, the
sources said.

The minister however observed the agreement should be signed keeping the
textile products on the negative list.

Dhaka sees ample opportunity to expand its market base in the east
including Thailand and Myanmar following the free trade agreement, the
sources said.

The government also informed Indian Foreign Secretary Shashank, who was
in Dhaka last week, about its decision to sign the BIMST-EC free trade

Representatives from the ministries of foreign affairs, commerce,
finance, law and textiles were present at the meeting held at the
conference room of the commerce ministry.