KATHMANDU, Feb 16: Though Nepal and Bangladesh finalized a draft last year, aiming to bring into operation a transit route between the two countries, the final pact is still eluding. A commerce secretary level meeting held last year in Dhaka had finalized the draft of the proposed agreement.
The agreement envisions to boost exports from Nepal through improved connectivity with Bangladesh. Lentils constitute about 75 percent of Nepal´s exports to Bangladesh.
"Though Bangladesh is ready to ink the pact any time, our progress is slow," said Purshottam Ojha, who was a couple of weeks ago transferred to the Prime Minister´s Office from the Ministry of Commerce and Supplies (MoCS). Last year´s meeting had decided to hold next bilateral meeting in Kathmandu between February and March this year.
Lal Mani Joshi, Secretary at MoCS, however, expressed ignorance of any preparations for the meeting supposed to take place in Kathmandu. "I have heard about the meeting but have no idea about the preparations by our ministry," said Joshi.
The draft of the agreement on bilateral transit stipulates to Nepal can use Mongla and Chittagong ports for its international trade. Nepali traders are facing problems in the transit of goods through Fulbari-Banglabanda route due to complicated transit process. Nepali exporters have to bear up with poor road infrastructure along Kakarvitta-Fulbari to Banglabanada and hassles caused by Indian security personnel.
The proposed pact is crucial to expand Nepal´s export with Bangladesh, which is almost double the imports from there. According to statistics compiled by Central Bank of Bangladesh, Nepal exported goods worth US$ 7.5 million during the three months between July and September last year. However, imports from Bangladesh stood at US$ 3.6 million during the period.
According to Kumud Dugar, a trader who has been exporting goods to Bangladesh, Nepal enjoys comparative advantage on lentils export that hovers around 25 tons annually -- some 70-75 percent of Nepal´s total export to Bangladesh.
Besides the Nepal-Bangladesh transit pact, Nepal-India Railway Service Agreement (RSA), Free Trade Agreement with Bhutan and Bangladesh, facility to use Visakhapatnam port, and Rohalpur-Singhabad transit are also among the long overdue issues.
However, Joshi claimed that the ministry is working to settle the issues gradually with due preparation.