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Formal talks on Dhaka-Islamabad FTA start soon, Says Morshed

Daily Star, Dhaka

Formal talks on Dhaka-Islamabad FTA start soon, Says Morshed

Unb, Dhaka

16 February 2006

Bangladesh and Pakistan will soon start formal negotiations on bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) in a bid to sign the deal by next September, Foreign Minister M Morshed Khan said here yesterday.

Islamabad also agreed to introduce passenger cum cargo service between Dhaka and Karachi bringing in Boeing-747 jets to carry Bangladeshi goods, including RMG, to Pakistan and beyond for lack of a direct shipping link. Initially, this service will operate once a week.

Briefing newsmen on the outcome of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s three-day official visit to Pakistan, Morshed said Bangladesh sought Pakistan’s cooperation at the next meetings of WTO in Geneva and Washington so that some Bangladeshi garment items could get duty-free access to the US market.

"We’ve discussed the issues of our bilateral interests, focusing on trade and economic cooperation," he told the press briefing at the foreign ministry.

The foreign minister said Pakistan has agreed to give duty-free access to 73 Bangladeshi items under nine categories, and it will be easier with a bilateral FTA in place.

Asked about the longstanding issue of repatriation of some 250,000 stranded Pakistanis and apportionment of pre-independence assets, he said : "We’ve been discussing the issue and it will continue."

On the easing of visa regime, he said Pakistan has agreed to liberalise visa for professionals and businesses.

The foreign minister said the Pakistan government also agreed to increase scholarships for Bangladeshi students from 75 to 100 annually for higher studies in Pakistan.

Asked about the possibility of signing bilateral FTA with India, he said Bangladesh will sign such a deal with any country wherever the country’s business interests will be protected.

The foreign minister said both the countries have agreed to take necessary steps to expand the bilateral trade to one $ 1 billion in next two to three years.

About fighting terrorism, the foreign minister said the leaders of both the countries have agreed not to allow the rise of militancy in the name of Islam and also to face the vile campaign against Islam, a religion of peace and tolerance. The two sides agreed to strengthen OIC to achieve this end.

On Saarc, Morshed said the two sides agreed to implement the decisions so far taken by the Saarc leaders. He mentioned that the standing committee comprising foreign secretaries of the member states will meet in Dhaka in April to make recommendations on how to strengthen the Saarc secretariat and evolve modalities to raise fund for implementation of the Saarc projects.

The Saarc foreign ministers will sit for an interim meeting to take decision on the recommendations of the standing committee.

Terming the prime minister’s visit fruitful, the foreign minister said the two sides had constructive and productive discussions that would help strengthen bilateral relations and cooperation in every field.

Foreign Secretary Hemayetuddin and senior officials of the foreign ministry were present at the briefing.