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Dhaka to tag strings to allowing gas pipeline

From The Daily Star, Bangladesh
December 4, 2004
link to this article.

Bangladesh will allow a proposed tri-nation gas pipeline to be drawn from Myanmar through its territory if India lets Bangladesh use its land to transit goods to and from Nepal and removes barriers to trade between the two countries.

Finance and Planning Minister M Saifur Rahman will make this position clear to the Indian officials if Delhi raises the proposal for transit of the gas pipeline during talks, he told reporters at Zia International Airport yesterday prior to flying off to the Indian capital.

He said he had talks with the prime minister on the issue.

The proposed pipeline will transmit gas from Myanmar to Tripura, from where gas will join the pipeline flow and continue on to eastern Bangladesh through the Brahmanbaria border, exiting in western Bangladesh through the Jessore border and ending in West Bengal.

"We are not against such a proposal in principle, the issue has been discussed with the prime minister and I can say that we do not have a negative attitude towards the issue," the finance minister told journalists.

He, however, said both India and Bangladesh will benefit if negotiations on transit for gas pipeline take place under a comprehensive framework.

Saifur said there should be no reservations about with the proposed gas pipeline since many countries have such arrangements. For instance, he pointed out, oil from Iran is being exported through pipeline going through Iraq, Syria and Turkey, while Russia is exporting gas pipelined through Italy, France and several other countries.

The issue needs to be seen in the light of historic relations between India and Bangladesh. Delhi should remove tariff, non-tariff and administrative hurdles to help Dhaka close a huge trade deficit with it. India should also provide Bangladesh transit facilities to carry goods to Nepal, an issue that Dhaka has been pressing for long, Saifur observed.

"Discussions have to take place on the basis of these interrelated issues," he maintained.

Saifur will attend a three-day India Economic Summit co-organised by World Economic Forum and Confederation of Indian Industry, beginning tomorrow, where he will speak on the subject "Creating a Dynamic South Asian Region."

He will meet his Indian counterpart Palaniappan Chidambaram, External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh, Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata.

He is likely to call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and will meet former prime ministers Inder Kumar Gujral and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. India's National Security Adviser JN Dixit will call on Saifur at his hotel suite during his five-day trip.

"We want to improve relations with our neighbours with a fresh, liberal mindset and I will have talks on ways to further boosting ties between the two countries. Europe is marching ahead with a similar attitude... Leaders of the Saarc nations need to work collectively burying past mindset," the finance minister said when asked what this India trip is all about.

This is Saifur's maiden trip to India after the Congress-led government came to office in May this year.

On Bangladesh's having a free trade area (FTA) with India, he said since leaders of seven Saarc countries have agreed to put in place a South Asian Free Trade Area (Safta) in 2006, there is no need to have such a bilateral trade arrangement.

"It will be tantamount to degrading Safta if we go for a bilateral FTA now."

Asked if Safta or FTA will help Bangladesh to reduce the bilateral trade gap now heavily in favour of India, Saifur said it will not happen automatically. Bangladesh will have to raise the number of its exportable items and make them cost competitive on the one hand and India will have to liberalise its trade regime on the other.

Indian Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar is expected to push hard for a pipeline to carry natural gas from Myanmar through Bangladesh to India when he comes to Dhaka during the 13th Saarc Summit.

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs last week shelved the gas pipeline proposal, saying it requires a 'high-level discussion' since it has implications on national security and inter-country relations.


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