Dialogue suggests relaxed visa regime for BBIN success

Financial Express, Bangladesh, April 05, 2016
FE Report
A flexible structure with relaxed visa regime will be helpful to advance the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) sub-regional integration process. These are part of 11-point key recommendations, made at a public-private dialogue on promoting trade in BBIN sub-region, to advance the sub-regional as well as regional integration in South Asia.

The two-day dialogue, jointly organised by Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dhaka (MCCI), SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry and The Asia Foundation, concluded on Sunday in Dhaka. Shafquat Haider, a director of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBBCI), moderated nine working sessions of the two-day dialogue. Secretary general of MCCI Faruk Ahmed, among others, spoke at the formal closing session. The key recommendations asked for active engagement of political elite in advancing the agenda of regional integration as well as Institutional strengthening and reforms. “While dealing with national level planning, there is a need for considering the regional dimension,” it added.

“Economic and trade diplomacy should replace conventional political and bureaucratic diplomacy.” It also stressed on relaxing and reforming the visa regime, in order to make BBIN effective, by allowing smooth movement of people and products across the borders. There is virtually no visa-related problem between India, Nepal and Bhutan on bilateral basis. But Bangladeshis need transit visa in India to travel Nepal and Bhutan by road and visa-verse. Again, it is not so easy to obtain Indian visa.

Currently, four countries are struggling to operationalise the BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA), signed last year, for seamless movement of motor vehicles in four countries. The routes are finalised. But the working group meeting in Dhaka last week failed to finalise the protocol on passenger-vehicle movement. Moreover, Bhutan is yet to ratify the agreement. Another recommendation mentioned that to keep the tempo of the BBIN dynamic, “it might be better to retain its current informal and flexible structure and decision-making process without a secretariat.”

“There should be no secretariat and development in BBIN should be project-based,” said Bipul Chatterjee, executive director of CUTS International. He repeatedly stressed on this point in the two-day dialogue. Some participants expressed disappointment with the progress of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) while others suggested not to left-out the SAARC for BBIN. Thus another recommendation stressed on ‘need for capacity building on conformity assessment’ in the region besides developing a common or harmonised SAARC ‘quality standards.

‘South Asian Regional Standards Organisation (SARSO) has already finalised seven SAARC standards. To facilitate smooth movement of cargos, the dialogue recommended developing ‘Standard Operating Procedures’ for port operations at BBIN as well as in South Asia. The needs for critical review of SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area) Sensitive List along with the Rules of Origin (ROO) criteria of SAFTA were also stressed in the key recommendations.

“Stringent rules of origin become an obstacle to enhance intra-regional trade in South Asia,” said Md Moshiul Alam, a senior official of the Bangladesh Tariff Commission. SAARC intra-regional trade volume stood at $49.6 billion in last year which was only 5.11 per cent of the region’s global trade. The trade volume was only $16.64 billion in 2005. There is also a recommendation to reform SAARC Charter to ‘allow for legally binding compulsion’ for the member states to implement a decision taken by SAARC bodies. It also stressed on role of media-effective policy advocacy.
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