India and Bangladesh will soon set up ‘haats’ (markets) along their international border in the northeast to boost local business and trade between the two neighbours, officials said here Monday.
Two ‘border haats’ would be set up along the Indo-Bangla border in Meghalaya while eight such ‘haats’ would be established along Tripura’s border with Bangladesh, senior officials and traders said at a summit on India-Bangladesh trade.
“The first ‘border haat’ is expected to be opened in the next two months along the Meghalaya border in West Garo Hills,” said India-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IBCCI) president Abdul Matlub Ahmad.
Addressing the summit, Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar said: “Northeast India with a population of 43 million and market size of about $20 billion offers an attractive opportunity to Bangladesh.
“Northeast India has rich natural resources like various horticultural and plantation crops, including rubber, which could be of interest to Bangladesh,” he said.
The commodities to be traded in these ‘haats’ would include locally produced agriculture and horticulture products, spices, minor forest products excluding timber, fresh and dry fish, dairy, fishery and poultry products, products of cottage industries, wooden furniture and cane products, handloom and handicraft items besides materials useful for farmers.
The ‘haats’ would operate within 1.5 km radius of both sides of the border under close supervision of the border guards and customs officials of both the countries.
These ‘border haats,’ which came to a halt post-partition, resumed after a few years and stopped again after the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war.
Four northeastern states – Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Assam – share a 1,880 km border with Bangladesh, while India and Bhutan share a 643 km unfenced border.
The Tripura chief minister said that at present Bangladesh has a larger volume of trade with China as compared to India.
“There is no reason why India cannot become the largest trading partner of Bangladesh, if the process of cooperation under SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Agreement) is further intensified and all the barriers to trade and investment are removed,” he said.
“Most important cities of Bangladesh, including Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet and Comilla, are within 15 km of the northeast borders and towns,” he stated.
The summit was organised by the Rajasthan-based Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) to boost and highlight the opportunities of increasing trade between India and Bangladesh focusing the northeast.
Stressing the urgent need to establish air connectivity between Bangladesh and the northeastern states of India, Sarkar said: “The ‘Maitree’ Express train service which runs between Kolkata and Dhaka should also be extended upto Akhaurah railway station near Agartala.”
Speaking about Tripura, he said that with a population of about 3.5 million, the state is also “a fairly large market of the size of about $2 billion”.
“If the union government agrees, Tripura can supply power to Bangladesh from its upcoming two mega power projects (740 MW in south Tripura and 104 MW in west Tripura), which would start generating power within the next few years.”
The official trade between Tripura and Bangladesh has increased more than three times in the last three years and was about Rs.150 crore during the last fiscal (2009-10).
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