Close on the heels of a thaw in India-Pakistan relations, it is now Bangladeshs turn to indicate its readiness to move economic relations with India on a faster track. Till recently, there appeared to be a difference in perception on how to resolve differences in trade-related issues between the two countries. Dhaka has never let go of an opportunity to point out its huge trade deficit vis-a-vis India, consistently accusing India of following discriminatory and non-reciprocal practices in bilateral trade. India has always shown preference in resolving all bilateral economic issues within the ambit of a free trade agreement (FTA). But it is only now, during the recent talks held between the visiting Bangladeshi finance and planning minister Saifur Rahman and his Indian counterpart, Jaswant Singh, that Dhaka has, for the first time, indicated that it was ready, albeit in principle only, to sign an FTA to boost economic cooperation and overcome existing problems related to tariff and non-tariff barriers and welcome greater investments. The Indian side, for its part, conveyed the governments decision to extend the validity period for the line of credit extended to Bangladesh that would not only be able to avail of the balance credit, but could also increase the list of commodities to be exported. Mr Singh also assured Mr Rahman that work on the land customs stations on the border would be expedited. Both sides also agreed to introduce more bus and railway services to promote greater people-to-people interaction.
So far, so good. It is certainly heartening that both sides agree that trade and commerce should take precedence over political issues, and should, in fact, form the basis of a new vision to promote bilateral ties. However, given that Dhaka has always allowed domestic political compulsions to stymie even those projects which make immense commercial sense (Bangla gas exports to India), one can only hope that all the goodwill displayed during the recent visit will actually get translated into action. If the two countries are to indeed take bilateral relations to a new high, Dhaka has to come out of the denial mode it normally adopts and discuss all issues, including illegal immigration and presence of terrorist infrastructure on its soil, frankly and openly. Else, as has been the case till now, politics will continue to come in the way of bilateral ties.