After the recent official visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Bhutan, Bangladesh is hopeful of pursuing the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal Motor Vehicles Agreement (BBIN-MVA) inked at SAARC Summit in Kathmandu in June 2015.
India is likely to go slow on the implementation of the BBIN-MVA, keeping in mind the sentiments of close partner Bhutan where a section of the political establishment is opposing the initiative allegedly at the behest of the local transport lobby.
Bhutan Prime Minister Lyonpo Damcho Dorji at a press conference on the official visit of Sheikh Hasina told journalists that the two governments held a bilateral meeting on issues of trade, culture, agriculture and BBIN-MVA.
The Bhutanese prime minister said, "The BBIN-MVA is very important for connectivity in the region, which is one of the non-tariff barriers for trade.
"For Bhutan, a landlocked country, we know the value of connectivity. Therefore, we have been supportive of the BBIN agreement."
However, Lyonpo candidly said, the public and the parliamentarians had some serious concerns because the implementation of the BBIN motor-vehicle agreement could result in seeing a huge influx of vehicles including passenger cars.
But quickly, Lyonpo said, there are certain provisions in the agreement and protocols, which will protect the interests of the respective countries. The Bhutanese government is clearly not in favor of
trucking companies from India and Bangladesh enter Bhutan, an official of Bangladesh foreign office and privy to the BIBN-MVA issue said. The Bhutanese government has informed Bangladesh that it would need more time to convince local transporters about the benefits of BBIN-MVA.
It was advised by the Bhutanese parliamentarians, that the vehicles should be parked at the Indo-Bhutan border, in the Indian territory and unload the exportable goods.
What is feared by Indian and Bangladesh companies that the trucks would return empty, which would double the cost of trucking of goods, that will directly have impact on exports to Bhutan, said the official who preferred anonymity.
Meanwhile, Delhi has continued to negotiate with Thimphu for full implementation of the project and urged it for an additional protocol to it to suit Bhutan's requirements, are also not ruled out. In early May, Bhutan's Parliament would commence and is likely to withdraw a Bill on May 8 it had introduced in the country's Parliament last year to ratify the BBIN-MVA for Regulation of Passenger and Cargo Vehicular Traffic.
Under pressure from truckers, the Upper House of Bhutan's Parliament had refused to ratify the pact, even though the lower house approved it and tried to convince seniors of the significance of this sub-regional connectivity initiative.
Several members of the Upper House, National Council, argued that the project would hurt the unique culture, tradition, environment, religion and economy of Bhutan. The National Council finally rejected the Bill in November, raising as many as 15 objections.
Neither Dhaka nor Delhi wish to expedite Thimphu to ratify the regional pact, keeping in mind that the Himalayan state will go for election in 2018.
Bangladesh, Nepal and India have already ratified BBIN-MVA and New Delhi and Dhaka have even went ahead to conduct a dry run of cargo transportation under it.
First published in The Asian Age, April 28, 2017
Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow (USA), is an award winning investigating journalist and is Special Correspondent, The Asian Age, Dhaka, Bangladesh