PRIME Minister Khaleda Zia's visit to India from today is considered significant in the bilateral relations between the two countries. This will be her first trip to India under her current tenure and the first at the Prime Ministerial level from Bangladesh since 1998. Thus, the visit is expected to lead to greater understanding between the leadership of the two countries and to the deepening of bilateral relations specially in the field of trade, investment and joint ventures. A number of agreements are likely to be signed during the visit for trade and bilateral investment promotion and protection as well as a protocol for movement by Indian vessels in the inland waterways of Bangladesh.
The visit by the Prime Minister could be a ground breaking one as there appears to be a conspicuous intention on both sides to increase interactions in the fields of trade and investment. From the Indian side, there exists the understandable desire to further expand the formal trade with Bangladesh while there is also a growing recognition of the need to admit substantially greater Bangladeshi products in both number and volumes to the Indian market to reduce the huge trade gap in favour of India. It is learnt that the Prime Minister and her delegation would be impressing their Indian counterparts about the importance of allowing greater entry of Bangladeshi products, specially to the north-eastern Indian states. The difficulties in this regard seem to be mainly non-tariff barriers such as quality certification insisted on by the Indian authorities. Bangladesh understandably wants quick progress in resolving these issues so that its export to India increases substantially. The Bangladesh foreign secretary in an interview to the press described these as confidence building measures (CBMs) that the Indian authorities can take in order to realise the full potentials of trade and economic interactions for mutual benefit. It is expected that India leaders will be more inclined to consider the CBM proposals at a time when Bangladesh has welcomed greater Indian investment offers and seems keen to promote them further.
Apart from the purely economic talking points, discussions on other vital issues are on the cards. From the Bangladesh side, there is a very pressing need to discuss water sharing issues with India at the highest level when the flows of the common rivers in Bangladesh have decreased alarmingly. In the case of the Ganges river over which the two countries have a water sharing agreement, the flow on the Bangladesh side of the river has declined to the lowest ever recorded level in the on-going dry season. Though, the lack of rains in the Ganges catchment area has much to do with this condition, there is every reason for Bangladesh to apprise Indian authorities at the highest level of the serious woes of Bangladesh so that India can do whatever should be possible to augment water flow in the Ganges. Besides, Bangladesh is also expected to discuss with India the sharing of the waters of the common rivers over which there are no agreements and the reported progress in building the Tipaimukh barrage in India. Discussions on these issues need to be treated as part of the CBMs by the Indian side and the outcome of successful talks on them can be like no other in giving a real momentum to Indo-Bangladesh relations in the positive direction.