Bangladesh biz leader welcomes India's free trade proposal

Friday, 23 May 2003, 07:00 Hrs
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DHAKA: Bangladeshi business leaders have welcomed India's proposal for a bilateral free trade arrangement even though Finance Minister Saifur Rahman has expressed scepticism over its benefits to this country.

Yusuf Abdulla Haroon, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), told IANS: "It's a welcome proposal."

The chief of the apex body of the business community in Bangladesh pointed out that Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan have already reached free trade arrangements with India. "We can go for a similar agreement," he added.

Another chamber leader said free trade with India would enhance Bangladesh's exports and reduce the yawning trade gap between the two countries.

Tapan Chowdhury, president of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, added: "Bangladesh should not have any objection to entering into an agreement as it would help boost exports to India and increase Indian investment."

Brushing aside speculation here that a free trade agreement would open the floodgates to dumping of Indian goods, he said such a view was "misplaced".

"The terms of the agreement must be well articulated to protect Bangladesh's economic security. It has to contribute to increased income and employment and widening of investment activities. Free trade can strengthen economic security in a dynamic sense," Chowdhury said.

The finance minister, who had expressed Dhaka's consent "in principle" to the proposal during his India trip, however doesn't share the business community's optimism.

On his return from India Thursday after the four-day trip, Rahman said he had asked New Delhi to open the border for six months on an "experimental basis" to allow access to Bangladeshi products.

"Let's see for six months on an experimental basis how much we can export," Rahman told reporters. "I don't believe Bangladesh would gain much from it to reduce the trade gap."

The current trade gap between the two neighbours is $1.2 billion.

Rahman has however conceded that a free trade agreement would perhaps have to be signed with India to keep up with the global trend and to beat competition.

Describing his trip as "successful", Rahman said: "We had been facing some hitches for quite some time. All misgivings have been removed now and if good relations exist at the leadership level, smaller irritants can be easily resolved."
Source: IANS
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