Bangladesh has entered into an era of duty-free bilateral trade after signing its maiden Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) with Bhutan which is expected to boost trade between the neighbouring countries.
Bangladesh Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi and Bhutanese Economic Affairs Minister Lyonpo Loknath Sharma inked the crucial instrument on behalf of their respective countries.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Bhutanese counterpart Lotay Tshering witnessed the signing ceremony, joining the event virtually respectively from Ganabhaban in Dhaka and Thimphu in Bhutan.
During the ratification of the deal, both the prime ministers unveiled a logo virtually, marking the golden jubilee of friendship between Bangladesh and Bhutan.
Both the premiers later cut cakes to celebrate the PTA and 50-year of diplomatic and bilateral ties between the two countries.
Foreign Minister Dr. A. K. Abdul Momen, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi, Bhutanese Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji and Economic Affairs Minister Lyonpo Loknath Sharma spoke on the occasion, while Bangladesh Commerce Secretary Dr Jafar Uddin gave the welcome address.
Among others, PM’s Private Industry and Investment Adviser Salman Fazlur Rahman, Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen, Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FBCCI) President Sheikh Fazle Fahim and Ambassador of Bhutan to Bangladesh Kutshab Rinchen Kuentsyl witnessed signing the PTA from Bangladesh side, while Bangladesh Ambassador to Bhutan AKM Shahidul Karim from Thimphu.
An audiovisual presentation was made on bilateral engagements between the countries marking their 50 years of relations.
The signing was held today to make the day memorable as on this day in 1971, Bhutan became the first country in the world to recognise Bangladesh’s independence and it marks the 50th anniversary of bilateral and diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Under the PTA, from now on some 100 Bangladeshi products will get duty-free access to the Bhutanese market, while 34 Bhutanese items will get the same facility in the Bangladeshi market.
The two neighboring countries will later be able to add more goods to the duty-free list through consultations.
The Bangladeshi products that will get duty free access in Bhutan are include — baby clothes and clothing accessories, men’s trousers and shorts, jackets and blazers, jute and jute goods, leather and leather goods, dry cell battery, fan, watch, potato, condensed milk, cement, toothbrush, plywood, particle board, mineral and carbonated water, green tea, orange juice, pineapple juice, and guava juice.
On the other hand, 34 Bhutanese goods that will get duty-free access to the Bangladesh market include — orange, apple, ginger, fruit juice, milk, natural honey, wheat or meslin flour, homogenised preparations of jams, fruit jellies, marmalades, food preparations of soybeans, mineral water, wheat bran, quartzite, cement clinker, lime stone, wooden particle boards, and wooden furniture.
According to the commerce ministry sources, the bilateral trade volume was just $12.77 million in fiscal year (2008-09) with Bangladesh’s export to Bhutan amounting $0.61 million while imports from Bhutan fetching $12.16 million.
But, with the passage of time, the bilateral trade volume reached $49.65 million in fiscal year (2018-19) out of which Bangladesh’s exports to Bhutan totaled $7.56 million against the imports of $42.09 million, they said.
Bangladesh is the 2nd largest export destination of Bhutan and the country’s major import item from Bhutan is bolder stone for its good quality and price, the sources said, adding that Bangladesh is now on a ‘development mood’.
The signing of the PTA with Bhutan is just the beginning while Bangladesh is expected to sign 11 more PTAs and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with different countries including Indonesia and Nepal by June next year, they further said.
Since Bangladesh would be graduating from the LDC status by 2024, the successive years would be challenging for the country for which there is a need for signing more PTAs and FTAs for getting maximum benefits in the long-term.