The historic Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Saturday,the second day of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's highly valued visit to India witnessed talks of far-reaching significance with her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. A composite productive outcome followed to be replete with MoUs and deals including a framework accord on defense cooperation, a 'new strategic element' to Indo-Bangla relationship.
All these will remain in bilateral discourses, perhaps more in Bangladesh than in India for a long time to come , the former having some long-standing issues with the latter raring for a speedy resolution. Bangladesh should consider itself confidently poised to demand early settlement of water sharing and trade imbalance issues, among some others.
For all the high-profile atmosphere pertaining to the just-concluded Hasina visit, Bangladesh prime minister secured a firm commitment from her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to this effect:"New Delhi would take concrete actions to address Dhaka's persistent concerns over the huge imbalance in bilateral trade."
Speaking of our 'persistent concerns', we would like to flag off two issues in response to Modi's promise of concrete action to mitigate the whopping trade imbalance. Bangladesh imported goods worth $5.45 billion from India while the latter imported merchandise amounting to $689.62 million from Bangladesh in fiscal 2015-16, according to data from the Indian High Commission in Dhaka.
The two problems that we would like to see as test cases relate to India's anti-dumping duty on our jute exports and her diffidence in accepting Bangladesh Standards and Testing (BSTI)'s certificates on food exports from Bangladesh . We think these are pretty much addressable and solvable issues that have not only been volubly discussed time and time again but also remedies mooted; yet not acted upon!
Our PM took with her Indian counterpart the issue of anti-dumping duty on the natural fibre-based products from Bangladesh. She expressed confidence that the problem would be resolved. It better be a proof of taking what we regard as a doable option towards filling in trade deficit not to an inconsiderable extent.
India slapped anti-dumping duty ranging between $19 and $352 a tonne on January 5. As a result,'year on year , jute goods exports slumped 52 percent to 6,872 tonnes in January and 37 percent to 6,155 tonnes in February, according to data from Benapole customs.'
The importance of the potential for the Indian chunk buying can be hardly emphasized: Jute is the largest export earning sector of Bangladesh,next to garments and leather with India being one of the biggest markets.
In this context, it is relevant to point out that the textile and jute ministries have reportedly listed 232 diversified jute products to boost export of goods made of natural fibre.
A whole range of items like shopping bags ,curtains and cushion covers to table mats ,flower vases, storage items to indoor and outdoor gardening materials and life-style products are likely to be eligible for 20 per cent cash subsidy against exports.
It is worthwhile to note that their production costs being high, Bangladesh's jute goods manufacturers face tough competition in the global market, especially from Indian exporters. So incentive can help our exporters whether it is in the shape of cash subsidy or in the form of Bangladesh Bank refinancing scheme for eco-friendly or green products.
Food or agro-processed exports run into non-tariff difficulties when certification by Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution require to be re-certified by Indian labs. Consequently, our traders have to wait for a long time before they are cleared by the Indian customs. Apart from loss of time and the hassles endured, a heavy cost of business is incurred, especially when you are dealing in perishable goods.
There must be some ways of overcoming such problems with technical cooperation that cannot be in short supply. After all, Bangladesh's manufacturers and exporters are no push-overs; many of them are operating globally by virtue of being on a learning curve -- and with humility!