On Tuesday, the 19th of December, 2017, government officials and private sector experts joined CUTS International, a premier public policy think tank having its headquarters in Jaipur, in a stakeholder consultation to launch a study on Non-Tariff Barriers to India-Bangladesh Trade in Agricultural Products. The overarching goal of the meeting was to understand key process, procedural, operational and regulatory challenges faced by agricultural exporters and importers of India while trading with Bangladesh.
Welcoming the participants, Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International said, while economic and trade relations between India and Bangladesh are expanding and facilitated the growth of bilateral trade, cross-border trade is hampered by a large number of non-tariff barriers, particularly those associated with procedures, regulatory and institutional infrastructure. In addition, there is sub-optimal trade infrastructure on both sides.
He categorically pointed out that NTBs are harmful in undermining the development of agriculture value chains between these neighbours. It is, therefore, important to address these barriers to reduce cost and time of doing trade to harness the untapped potential of trade in agricultural products. Most importantly, trade in agriculture products will improve access and availability of essential food items for marginalised people in both countries. In addition, there will be quality improvement of food items and more stability in food markets. “In short, enhanced trade in agricultural products between these neighbours will enhance food security,” he underlined.
Prithviraj Nath, Associate Director, CUTS International outlined the methodology and approach of the study. He explained that the focus the study is on NTBs faced by Indian agricultural traders, in relation to their exports to, and imports from, Bangladesh, particularly those arising from infrastructure hurdles, procedural delays and capacity gaps. The study will focus on selected agriculture products traded through specific land ports to understand key obstacles faced by exporters and importers while trading with Bangladesh.
According to Biswajit Das, General Secretary, Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry of North Bengal, the study should cover Changrabandha land port, which is one the most important land ports between India and Bangladesh and also a transit point for Bhutan. A significant volume of trade between the two countries takes place through this land port.
Adding to this, Sudip Dey, Vice President, Calcutta Customs House Agents Association, Kolkata remarked that the study must look at low hanging fruits which are easily doable. He underscored the importance of communication between the relevant bodies for efficient clearance of goods at land border. He further stated that most land ports between India and Bangladesh do not have an effective electronic data interchange (EDI) facility, which creates significant challenges in terms of completing customs clearance and export-import formalities. In addition, the absence of EDI facility has also affected the implementation of risk management system at land ports.
Joseph George, Consultant UN-ESCAP, stated that there is a need to identify the target audience for this work which would help in prioritising specific areas of the study. This would not only help in effective implementation of this work but will also help creating political buy-in for necessary reforms. Other than this, one must understand the clear linkages between policy, procedure, infrastructure and need to be looked at them in an integrated manner. Adding to this, Nilanjan Banik, Professor Bennet University stated that the study should also measure the impact of NTBs on prices of selected agricultural products and the potential gains to consumers and producers.
According to Surendar Singh, Fellow, CUTS International, while analysing the time and cost of doing trade in agricultural products along the land ports in India-Bangladesh border, the study should look at how enhanced trade by addressing procedural and related non-tariff barriers can help people to achieve better livelihood and food security.
In conclusion, most of the participants were of the view that while the focus of current work is on agricultural products but it could also explore other product groups which have strong linkages with the livelihood of farmers and other local people. They were of the view that the study should also explore possible linkages between trade, gender, livelihood and how such linkages can be further strengthened to reduce poverty and promote inclusive and sustainable development.