Eight more border haats in the offing
Star Business Report
Riding on initial success, at least eight more border haats will open soon to foster trade between India and Bangladesh, officials said yesterday.
“The success of the border haats will be expanded. Efforts to set up four border haats with Mizoram are underway. We will also look into the possibility of opening border haats with Assam,” said Foreign Minister Dipu Moni.
She spoke at a seminar, Northeast India-Bangladesh Business Conclave, at Sonargaon Hotel in Dhaka.
India Chamber of Commerce (ICC) organised the event in association with India-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IBCCI).
Forty-eight delegates from Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Assam, Tripura and ICC took part in the seminar organised on the sidelines of the third Indo-Bangladesh Trade Fair.
The comments from the Bangladeshi foreign minister came after Sanjay Bhattacharya, deputy high commissioner of India to Bangladesh, said they have made a small but significant beginning with the operationlisation of two border haats in Meghalaya.
“Four more will follow in Tripura and another four in Mizoram,” he said.
The diplomat said they are enthused by the positive reaction of the community to opening of trade through the border haats. “Both sides have prospered and there is no evidence that opening trade with northeast India has in any way affected either community negatively.”
“We need to cast aside fears and take the opportunity forward. Land border should be an interface for exchange of culture and commerce,” he said.
Last year, a first-ever ‘border haat’ was formally opened at the no-man’s land of Kalaichar in Kurigram for trading in commodities of Bangladesh and India with the expectation of strengthening bonds of people of the two countries.
Mukul Sangma, chief minister of Meghalaya, said the steps taken so far must be translated into action to improve relations between the two countries.
He said there have been a lot of improvements in cooperation between Bangladesh and India, particularly with its northeast states.
“Still, there are many things we need to work on. It is high time for us to identify areas for investment opportunities,” he said.
He said there is a need to strengthen social bonds among people of Bangladesh and northeast states, apart from working on boosting economic ties. “We have to work to strengthen contacts among people, which existed in the past, to dispel mistrust among them.”
Sangma said the two countries can work on tourism, which has an enormous potential to grow. “If we do it jointly we will be able to make our products attractive.”
MK Saharia, chairman of the northeast chapter of ICC, said the growth prospect of India, particularly in its northeastern region is directly linked with the growth and prosperity of Bangladesh.
He said the two-way annual trade between India and Bangladesh tops $5 billion, where Bangladesh’s exports account for only $500 million.
“This is the scenario although India has removed all duties on Bangladeshi products. Here Bangladesh must understand that it produces products that Indian manufacturers also do. As a result, the Bangladeshi producers face competition.”
“Bangladesh should diversify its export basket,” he said. “The two countries should also initiate joint ventures aiming not only their respective domestic markets, but also for a third country.”
India offers a market of 1.2 billion people to Bangladesh, said Saharia.
The deputy high commissioner said, given the geographical proximity, Bangladesh would never lose its competitive advantage for export of its goods to the northeast as compared to goods from Indian mainland via Chittagong to northeast India.
“The only goods in which there will be a cost advantage are those not produced or manufactured or not in surplus in Bangladesh. Therefore, the opinion of some naysayers of loss of advantage is not based on facts,” he said.
The diplomat said the Indian High Commission in Dhaka has started issuing one-year multiple entry visas liberally to all genuine business applicants and at least a six-month multiple entry visa for those having proper support documentation and letter of introduction from chambers.
“We feel that unless there is an easy access for the business community, we are not really encouraging business,” he said.
Jitendra Chaudhury, industries minister of Tripura, said if common people could travel each other frequently and easily, all barriers would go, let alone any non-tariff barriers.
Tapang Taloh, industries minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Gautam Roy, public health minister of Assam, Mamun Rashid, director of BRAC School of Business, Abdul Matlub Ahmad, president of IBCCI, and Rejeev Singh, director general of ICC, also spoke.