The implementation of the Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal (BBIN) motor vehicles pact may be delayed till early 2017 as the Bhutanese Parliament is yet to approve the deal and may not take it up for consideration till the next session some time in September-October, according to latest information.

The preliminary pact was signed in June last year. And, by end 2015, Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal (BBIN) were scheduled to sign a detailed motor vehicles pact, to allow seamless movement of cargo and people between the four-nation sub-regional bloc, outside SAARC, from January 1, 2016.

But so far only a pilot run of cargo vehicles and launch of a commercial bus service between Kolkata and the North Eastern State of Tripura, through Bangladesh has taken place.

India and Bangladesh were the front runners in seeking approval of their respective Parliaments. But despite the chill in India-Nepal relations, sources say, Kathmandu is now moving fast to remove the hurdles to the deal.

But the delay in signing the pact has had little impact on business in the region. The business community does not seem to mind the delay as it feels it may lead to a more stable agreement being formulated.

According to a local businessman, Kathmandu is now convinced that the opening up of 33-km BBIN corridor between Kakarbhitta and Fulbari through West Bengal will help it access Bangladeshi ports and reduce dependence on India.

Abdul Matlub Ahmad, president of Bangladeshi apex chamber Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), confirms this. The chamber has already formed a ‘BBIN Investment Forum’ based in Dhaka.

Bhutan, he says, had some reservations about seamless entry of third country vehicles as it might harm interests of local transporters. But these issues are being ironed out through informal arrangements.

Economic zone According to Ahmad, policy makers from Bhutan and Nepal, and advisors to Prime Minister of Bangladesh will attend a stakeholders’ meet to be organised by ‘BBIN Investment Forum’ in Siliguri in mid-July. The Mamata Banerjee government will join the summit, if it comes back to power in May.

Plans are afoot, Ahmad says, to declare the region connecting the border towns of Phuentsholing in Bhutan, Biratnagar in Nepal, Panchagarh in Bangladesh and Siliguri in West Bengal as “BBIN economic zone” with headquarters in Panchagarh.

Ahmad is hopeful that BBIN will emerge as a full fledged economic bloc, an alternative to SAARC that had failed in its regional cooperation initiatives due to lack of trust especially between India and Pakistan.

“On the contrary entire North Eastern India is pushing for access to Chittagong port. Dhaka is keen to import hydro-electricity from Bhutan and, land-locked Nepal is keen to open trade route through Bangladesh. It’s a story of mutual comfort and convenience,” he says.

New Delhi is the main driver for this arrangement, says Ahmad.