Bangladesh, India to sign "border haat" agreement

Bangladesh`s imports from India in 2008-2009 were USD 2.841 billion and exports to India were USD 276.58 million. Total bilateral trade in stood at USD 3.117 billion.

Dhaka: Bangladesh and India will soon sign agreements allowing makeshift bazaars at their common border as officials from the two countries have finalised the modus operandi of the proposed `haats`, a step expected to boost bilateral trade.

"We expect to eventually sign the `border haat` deal by this month," Commerce Minister Faruque Khan told a news agency as he is set to leave here for New Delhi on October 20 on a three day tour.

Khan said, a MoU and a related deal on border haat modalities were to be signed during his visit, paving ways for launching the makeshift frontier bazaars initially at two
points of the 4,156 kilometres of the porous borders of the two countries.

Bangladesh`s imports from India in 2008-2009 were USD 2.841 billion and exports to India were USD 276.58 million. Total bilateral trade in stood at USD 3.117 billion.

According the draft an individual will not be able to trade above USD 50 at the bazaar using both Bangladeshi and Indian currencies while farm and home made items produced in 10 kilometre radius of border bazaar will be allowed to trade in the haats, to be set up within 75 meters of the frontier.

Items to be traded at the bazaars included farm products, handicrafts, horticulture, fresh and dry fish, wooden and cane furniture, utensils, farming tools and home-made clothing such as lungi, gamcha would be eligible for border trading.

A committee comprising government officials and representatives of border guards of both the countries would run and oversee the operations of the haats.

He said the bilateral trade and economy were likely to dominate the talks with his Indian counterpart Anand Sharma while Bangladesh would reiterate its call for waiving duty and
removal of non-tariff barriers on its apparel exports. It will also be relaxing a universal Indian ban on cotton export for Bangladesh and reconsidering a decision on stamping seals on jute bags from the country.

"We expect all the outstanding bilateral trade related issues will be resolved during the meeting in the light of the joint communiqué issued during our Prime Minister Sheikh
Hasina`s visit to India," in January this year, Khan said.

Bangladesh has been asking India either to give 61 products duty-free access or a complete duty waiver to all garments products.

Under a 2008 bilateral trade agreement India allowed duty-free access of eight million pieces of garment products but the business sources said almost 70 percent of the
quantity was already exported and the rests were expected to be exhausted by the year-end.

The minister`s comments came as officials earlier this week said the two countries finalised the modus operandi of the border haats after months of talks with Indian officials as New Delhi agreed not to impose local tax on trading in the borders by the concerned Indian state governments.

A commerce ministry official said the differences on issue of taxation delayed the inking of the agreement though the two countries earlier hammered out the draft deal in mid
May last in Dhaka in line with a Dhaka-New Delhi deal reached during Sheikh Hasina`s maiden India tour.

According to the negotiated draft of the proposed agreement, trading at the border markets will not be taxed or levied or fall under the foreign trade policies and laws of
the two countries as they would initially sat once a week.

The official said two such haats would be set up in the first phase - one in northeastern Sunamganj and another in northwestern Kurigram along India`s Meghalaya frontier.

He said several clauses were incorporated in the draft agreement in an effort to keep cross-border smugglers away from the facilities and prevent money laundering.

Months after Bangladesh`s 1971 independence, the two countries had launched border trading in April 1972 but the authorities were forced to cancel the haats a year later due
to rampant smuggling along the border areas.

Former Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty two years ago suggested launching of small border trade centres at designated frontier villages on pilot
project basis under the supervision of paramilitary frontier guards of the two countries.