INDIA is a major trading partner of Bangladesh and the latter brings in nearly one-fifth of all its requirements of imported goods from the former. Thus, Bangladesh imported goods valued some $2025.78 million from India in the financial year 2004-5. Imports from India have increased further in the last fiscal year and the same trend is continuing. Bangladesh has some advantage in importing from India because of the proximity factor. But this aspect of the bilateral trade between the two countries cannot quite hide the facts of gross inequity and unreasonable impediments put on the way of export of Bangladeshi products to India. Bangladesh's export to India in fiscal year 2004-5 was only $144 million. This shows the massive imbalance in the bilateral trade of Bangladesh with that country. It may be contended that imbalance cannot be automatically corrected. There are legitimate demands from the Bangladesh side that the Indian government in particular must take into consideration -- such as demands for the removal of non-tariff barriers and checking wilful harassment of Bangladeshi exporters by the Indian customs, for the sake of fairplay and for genuinely helping the access of Bangladeshi products to India.
Specially, the north-eastern Indian states -- seven in number and called the seven sisters - are highly prospective for the export of Bangladeshi products. Transportation costs of many consumer products from the rest of India to these almost landlocked states mean their high prices at users' ends. The same products and more can be supplied from Bangladesh at comparatively cheaper prices because of its geographical position. Some Bangladeshi goods in these Indian states also enjoy good reputation for quality. The huge trade imbalance that Bangladesh suffers with India can substantially be reduced if Indian authorities facilitate trade between Bangladesh and their north-eastern states. But this trade currently remains hampered by the imposition of unreasonable non-tariff barriers, para-tariff roadblocks and additional supplementary duties, which the Indian authorities call, for reasons best known to them, countervailing duties. Many times in bilateral discussions between the two countries on these issues, the Indian side firmly committed themselves to withdrawing these obstacles. But these commitments remained pledges, which is the sad experience of Bangladeshi exporters wanting to export to the Indian market.
A meeting of the Bangladesh-India trade taskforce is scheduled for holding in the present week. Representatives of the apex chamber bodies of the two countries would be meeting in Dhaka for the purpose. This is a follow-up to the understanding reached between the two countries during Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's recent visit to India when it was agreed to form such a joint task force. While there would be many issues to discuss between the two sides, the meeting must necessarily devote enough time to the pressing needs of Bangladesh in respect of the withdrawal of the various trade barriers by the Indian authorities which they had committed to do a long time ago. The Indian delegation at the task force meeting will be businessmen and not officials. But they are expected to duly appraise the Indian authorities about Bangladesh's concern and the need to lift the trade barriers not in words but in deeds. Indian businesses ought to see the merit of undeterred movements of goods both ways because business in both the countries will benefit greatly from the same.