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4 negotiated trade deals not in agenda

Nazmul Ahsan

A number of agreements on trade and commerce already negotiated among BIMSTEC member states have not been included in the agenda of the 7-nation summit of the economic cooperation group, slated to be held in Myanmar on March 4.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to lead a 25-member delegation to attend the summit of the Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) to be held in Myanmar capital Naypyidaw. 
The ministerial meeting, to be attended by foreign ministers of  the 7-nation economic block, was not held for the last about five years to endorse the agreed draft agreements, a pre-condition before placing those at the summit for formal signing among the member states.
A row between Dhaka and Colombo over hosting the secretariat of BIMSTEC held back the ministerial meeting and stalled the process of endorsing the draft agreements, a senior official of the commerce ministry said.
Sri Lanka, one of the founding members of the group, has been showing zero interest over going ahead with the four negotiated agreements as the country was denied to host the BIMSTEC secretariat at the second summit of the block in 2008.
The summit approved Dhaka to host the secretariat that resulted in the non-cooperation from Colombo to forge ahead with trade and economic cooperation.
An inter-ministerial meeting held last week at the foreign ministry discussed the impediments to in the way of making the next BIMSTEC summit a success, a senior official at the foreign ministry said.
State minister for foreign affairs Shariar Alam presided over the meeting. The meeting, however, failed to take any decision ahead of the summit, other than stocktaking of the progress and failures of  BIMSTEC after it was launched in 1997.
The foreign ministry officials were rather busy to arrange a meeting between prime minister Sheikh Hasina and Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh at the sideline of the summit.
‘We see no chance of taking forward the negotiated four trade agreements under the BIMSTEC framework as no ministerial meeting was held in the last five years to endorse the draft deals,’ an official at the ministry of foreign affairs said.
‘The forthcoming summit could be largely a ceremonial, rather than focused,’ the official said on condition of anonymity.
Both Bangladesh and India are the members of BIMSTEC. The other members are Sri Lanka, Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan.
The draft agreements were on trade in goods in BIMSTEC free trade area (BFTA), a protocol to amend the
framework agreement on BFTA, agreement on dispute settlement procedures and mechanism of the BFTA and agreement on cooperation in customs matters for BFTA, an official in the commerce ministry said.
The BFTA was signed in February, 2004. However, no breakthrough has so far been visible after signing the agreement.
Enhancing trade and investment through eliminating duties in phases among member countries is the prime objective of signing the proposed agreements, under the umbrella agreement, the BIMSTEC framework agreement.

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