Nepal-Bangladesh trade talks fruitful

KATHMANDU: Bangladesh has urged Nepal to fix the destination for cargo trade. During a joint secretary level meeting with Nepal, Bangladeshi officials discussed the transportation modality at length with their Nepali counterparts. “Bangladesh is convinced that a destination should be fixed for the cargo trade,” said Surya Silwal, joint secretary at the Ministry of Commerce and Supply, who led the Nepali delegation to Bangladesh.

This joint secretary level meeting was a revision meeting of the last commerce secretary level meeting. “We discussed three major issues: revision of the last commerce secretary level meeting between the two countries, facilitating the next talks that will be held in October first week and revising the wish list for exports,” he added.

Officials from both countries discussed establishing a preferential bilateral trading arrangement and simplifying movement of goods in respective markets. The Bangladeshi private sector also took active part in the bilateral talks.

Bangladesh has restricted Nepali exports with a heavy tariff barrier. It has imposed higher customs duty on some agricultural products that are Nepal’s main export items. Nepal has been requesting Bangladesh to provide duty-free entry facility to some 140 Nepali commodities. “We repeated our request for duty free access and Bangladesh responded positively,” Silwal said adding that Nepal’s suggestion was to start with a couple of items.

Nepali traders describe the Bangladeshi high duty structure as the barrier in expediting the bilateral trade. However, Silwal said that both countries want to expedite trade “but there are political barriers.”

Apart from the tariff, transportation is another major hurdle in bilateral trade. Nepal has proposed tripartite talks for smooth transportation link between the two South Asian countries as both Nepali and Bangladeshi traders or tourists have to cross India while using land routes.

Additional secretary of the Commerce Ministry of Bangladesh Mustafa Mohiuddin headed the 12-member Bangladeshi delegation while Silwal led the four-member Nepali team.

During the bilateral trade talks yesterday, both sides also agreed to mobilise tour operators and travel agencies of Bangladesh and Nepal to take initiatives to give a boost to the tourism sector of the two countries. Around three per cent Bangladeshi tourists used to visit Nepal, but the flow of Bangladeshi tourists to Nepal has seen a whopping fall in recent months. “During 2065 BS (mid-April 2008 to mid-April 2009), the Nepali embassy in Dhaka issued 1,547 visas,” said Ramesh Prasad Khanal, minister counsellor and deputy chief of mission at the Nepali embassy, Dhaka. “This year, from mid-April 2009 till date only around 500 visas were issued,” he added.

The Bangladeshi tourists visiting by land routes need double entry visa as they have to cross the Indian border twice to enter Nepal. India started issuing a single entry visa that has reduced the number of Bangladeshi tourists coming to Nepal by land.