Speaking at a business lunch organised by apex business chambers Ficci, CII and Assocham on Wednesday, Ms Zia pointed out that the rising trade gap between the two countries was a matter of concern and called for preferential duty free access of Bangladeshi exports to India and dismantling of various non-tariff barriers (NTBs).
While Indias exports to Bangladesh in 2004-05 was around $2 bn, Bangladeshs exports to India were a meagre $140 mn, Ms Zia said, adding that a healthy growth of Bangladeshi exports will greatly help in sustaining its substantial imports from India.
Expressing her interest in promoting business partnerships, Ms Zia said that her country provided an investment friendly regime and could also serve as the gateway to South East Asian markets and also those markets offering preferential access to the goods produced in Bangladesh.
Commerce minister Kamal Nath, in response, said that the NTBs, if any, were not by design but by default and would be removed.
Mr Nath said that he was aware of the concern about the application of mandatory standards on cement, electric appliances and drinking water and agreed that product-by-product certification was highly cumbersome. One way to resolve issues would be if both BSTI and the Bureau of Indian Standards sing an MoU, the minister suggested.
He called for a roadmap to address issues, which are hindering growth of trade between India and Bangladesh. Greater connectivity is vital. We must encourage, if not insist on, movement of goods across our land borders through sealed containers. Containerised movement of goods through the riverine route, land route and railways between India and Bangladesh will considerably reduce the existing heavy congestion at the Petrapole-Benapole station, he said.
Mr Nath also pushed for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) on the grounds that it could also substantially address the trade deficit issue. Citing the example of India-Sri Lanka FTA, the minister pointed out that the balance of trade which favoured India 15:1, when the FTA was signed has comed down to 4:1.