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‘India-Nepal standoff no stumbling block for BBIN Corridor’

Pratim Ranjan Bose Kolkata | Updated on January 22, 2018 Published on December 07, 2015

Siliguri to be nerve-centre of connectivity drive

Hectic road-widening work is on in north Bengal along the 33-km stretch from Fulbari checkpost on Bangladesh border to Panitanki border with Nepal. Also from Changrabanda land customs station with Bangladesh to Jaigaon border with Bhutan, covering a distance of 90 km.

They are part of the Asian Highway projects to facilitate seamless movement of cargo and passengers between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN). According to initial assessments, it may reduce trade costs by five to seven per cent by cutting down on travel time and procedural delays.

4-nation pact

The four-nation motor vehicles pact is in place. Implementation was due on January 1. But the ongoing stand-off between New Delhi and Kathmandu over the Madhesi agitation in Nepal is delaying the finalisation of the details.

Will the tensions in India-Nepal relations cast a shadow over the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream of creating a sub-regional trade block?

“No way,” says Rajendra K Khetan who owns a $500 million financial services empire – including, bank, insurance, stock trading and others – in Kathmandu. “BBIN is a multilateral arrangement endorsed by Parliaments of the participating countries and is there to stay. What we are witnessing now is a temporary phase that will pass in no time,” he said.

Restrictions in Nepal

He foresees sharp rise in trade volume through Panitanki-Kakarvitta (Nepal) border that now handles a fraction of Nepal’s foreign trade. But with time, this treaty will pave way for greater play of market forces across the region.

A case in point is Nepal’s insulated economy. Kathmandu doesn’t allow its business to invest outside, largely fearing a flight of capital to India. This has actually worked against Nepal. While capital is finding its way to neighbouring countries illegally, Nepali business is missing the growth opportunity.

Khetan’s Laxmi Bank that is flushed with cash, for example, jostles for space with nearly three dozen competitors in Nepal, instead of tapping the lending opportunities in India. BBIN, he feels, will trigger reforms.

BBIN forum in Dhaka

Bangladeshi business has already gone a step ahead in realising the dream.

“We have formed the ‘BBIN Investment Forum’ of industrialists in October,” said Abdul Matlub Ahmab a prominent businessman in Dhaka and president of Bangladeshi apex chamber FBCCI (Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry).

Initially, the forum included industrialists from India and Bangladesh. Bhutan has shown interest to join the initiative. Ahmab is confident that Nepali business will also come along.

With promises, there are some concerns too. Bhutan has already requested both Nepal and Bangladesh to limit crossborder movement of trucks and passenger buses, to safeguard the interests of local transporters.

Ahmab admits similar concerns in Bangladesh with respect to over $6 billion India-Bangladesh trade. But he denies it to be a stumbling block.

Chandra Kumar Ghimire, Nepali consul general in Kolkata feels the answer lies in enhancing the size of the trade so that everyone gets more.

Published on December 07, 2015
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