Mashiur against fees for transit

Ref: Bangladesh should not collect fees for providing transit or transshipment facility to India, says prime minister’s economic advisor Mashiur Rahman.

“Had our country been an uncivilised one or our leaders been illiterate then we could have asked for the fees, but that’s not the case,” he told reporters after a dialogue on Thursday.

On several occasions in the past, both the finance minister and foreign minister had said that India should pay fees for availing of transshipment facility.

He was the chief guest at the concluding session of the dialogue titled ‘Cooperative Development, Peace and Security to South Asia and Central Asia: Strengthening India-Bangladesh Relations’ in the city.

“According to WTO principles, transit facility should not be used for augmenting revenue rather to pass on the benefit to the customers,” he said.

“It’s a non-starter if we think that by giving transit facility, Bangladesh is actually providing subsidy to Indian export,” he added.

The shipment cost of India will reduce significantly due to transit facility as it is expensive to send goods through ‘chicken neck’ in Assam, Mashiur said.

The adviser said the government is removing the problems related to trade and transit, but cooperation in energy and water were yet to be explored.

“There are huge potentials of producing hydroelectricity in northeastern states of India, Nepal and Bhutan, and through regional cooperation Bangladesh can be a beneficial to it,” he said.

Customers of power produced in northeastern states will be in mainland India but it is not possible to send the electricity through the ‘chicken neck’.

“India needs the help of Bangladesh to get the environment-friendly and cheap electricity, and Bangladesh should extend its hand for that,” he added.

About Mongla Port, he said Bangladesh proposed India to use the port but for that adequate investment was required. “The investment won’t be justified if a certain volume of cargo movement is not ensured,” he explained.

The advisor hoped that a substantial amount of investment would come to Bangladesh from India as it would be cheaper to send goods from Bangladesh to ‘seven sisters’.

PKSF chairman Dr Q K Ahmed said six areas of cooperation had been identified to make Bangla-India relationship more vibrant and dynamic.

The areas are energy, agriculture, food security, water, trade and investment, and climate change. He said Bangladesh can invest on equitable basis in Bhutan and Nepal to get hydroelectricity.

“Nepal and India are discussing about the Saptakoshi River, but Bangladesh can also be included in the dialogue on equal participation basis,” he said.

Former foreign secretary Shafi Sami said the relations between the two neighbouring countries were cyclical.

“Sometimes it reaches the peak of cooperation and sometimes there is only distrust,” he said.

Former foreign secretary of India Salman Haider said many Bangladeshis and Indians were friends, but value addition of the friendship was very important.

“We’re enlightened with political leadership and genuinely looking for collective approach as that is the demand of time,” he added.

Saber Hossain Chowdhury MP said Indo-Bangladesh relationship should move forward but sometimes there were some ‘short-circuit’ in it.

Indian deputy high commissioner Sanjay Bhattacharia said ideas must be translated into action and it must help to improve livelihood of people and then the people would act as an agent for transformation.

MUHITH ON TRANSIT

The finance minister in the budget for the current fiscal year had made a provision for collecting fees for transit and transhipment at a rate of Tk 1,000 per tonne for bulk cargo and Tk 10,000 per container.

On Nov 2 last year, finance minister Abul Mal Abdul Muhith had said the government was going to formulate new rules to impose duty on transshipment of goods by India through Bangladesh.

“They’ll use our facilities to transport their goods. Our infrastructure will be used and that involves some costs for the government. So we’ll have to take something; it may be called fee or anything,” he had told journalists after a meeting with the visiting mission chief of IMF at his ministry.

Muhith had said the existing transit rules of the National Board of Revenue (NBR) would be amended and the amount of fees will be re-fixed.

The main opposition BNP has long been opposing the transit facility to India.

Demanding cancellation of the recently-signed deals with India, BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia on Nov 7 last year said no foreign vehicle would be allowed to use Bangladesh territory.

Also leader of the opposition, Khaleda asked the government to scrap immediately the ‘transit deal’ with the neighbouring country.

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