Bhutanese prime minister, Lotay Tshering, also the country’s first head of government, visited Bangladesh between 12 and 15 April. He is aware of the problems and prospects of Bangladesh as he was a medical student in Bangladesh in the nineties. Besides holding talks with the prime minister Sheikh Hasina, he met with businessmen during his recent visit. He also joined Bengali New Year celebrations in Dhaka and Mymensingh.
The Bhutanese prime minister laid emphasis on increasing trade and connectivity to strengthen bilateral relations. This is logical. As connectivity will increase, relations will also be strengthened. Lotay Tshering said export of Bhutanese items to Bangladesh stands at three million dollars whereas Bangladeshi exports crossed 30 billion dollars. Exports should be raised further. During formal discussions, Bangladesh sought duty and quota free access of its 10 items while Bhutan 16 items. Both sides have agreed in principle to the matter, though the items have not been fixed as yet.
A sub-regional alliance of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal, had been formed with a view to increasing connectivity, trade and commerce and expediting economic development. Visible progress is very limited although many talks have been held in this regard. An agreement among the countries was signed so that motor vehicles of one country can run through another country. But the Bhutan parliament did not ratify it fearing environment pollution. Foreign minister MA Momen raised the issue during the bilateral talks. He requested Bhutan to allow access to its road on a limited scale. The road network among four countries depends on Bhutan.
We believe there is no alternative to making communication easier to improve the lot of the people. Bangladesh and Bhutan signed five instruments on strengthening their cooperation in the areas of health, agriculture, shipping, tourism and public administration training during the visit of the Bhutanese prime minister. Besides, a MoU was signed between industry and trade associations of two countries. These all are positive initiatives.
It is urgent for Bangladesh to solve water and electricity crisis first rather than increasing bilateral and regional trade and commerce. It is not possible without the cooperation from India, Nepal and Bhutan. If such projects are implemented, not only Bangladesh but also all the countries in the region will be benefited.
Bangladesh was pushing much earlier for basin based joint projects to solve water crisis. It is learnt that India is now positive on the proposal although India did not support it in the past. Bangladesh has proposed constructing joint hydropower projects by using huge water resources of Nepal and Bhutan. Bhutanese prime minister said they have possibility of generating 30,000 megawatt electricity due to geographic location. But only, 5,000 megawatt is being produced. The energy crisis of Bangladesh will decrease if joint initiative is taken.
The support of India is needed if Bangladesh-Bhutan or Bangladesh-Nepal wants to go for hydropower projects. The policy makers need to pay attention for the projects in which four countries-Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and India can be benefited. Otherwise, BBIN or sub-regional alliance will be meaningless.