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Mosharrof Aiyer to discuss gas pipeline

Shahnaj Begum
From The Independent, Bangladesh
March 10, 2005
link to this article.

The government will extended an invitation to Indian Petroleum Minister Moni Shankar Aiyer to visit Bangladesh sometime in April.

Official sources expressed optimism that the proposed visit would provide an opportunity to Minister for Energy and Mineral Resources AKM Mosharrof Hossain to discuss bilateral matters, with his Indian counterpart. In exchange for allowing its territory for gas pipeline from Myanmar to India, Bangladesh wants corridor through India for trade with Nepal and Bhutan and for bringing electricity.

It is learnt that in a letter dated March 7 the Indian Petroleum Minister expressed his desire to discuss the issues relating to the gas pipeline, before signing the MoU.

The Energy Ministry yesterday prepared the invitation letter where it mentioned that it would provide an opportunity to make the discussions a success.

Earlier, AKM Mosharrof Hossain, sat across the table with the Indian Petroleum Minister Mane Shankar Aiyer and Myanmar Energy Minister Lun Thai in Myanmar in January last.

It is learnt that Bangladesh put certain conditions for allowing gas pipeline to run from Myanmar to India through its territory. Bangladesh's long pending request to India to allow land transit to Nepal, and import of hydro-electricity from Nepal and Bhutan will be the main agenda for the discussion.

A draft of the MoU was finalised in the first meeting of the Techno-Economic Working Committee on Myanmar-Bangladesh-India gas pipeline, which concluded in Yangon on February 25.

In the first meeting of the Techno-Economic Working Committee on Myanmar-Bangladesh-India gas pipeline, Bangladesh's delegation made it clear that the signing of the MOU would be contingent upon the effective resolution of bilateral issues between India and Bangladesh, in light of discussions held in Yangon on January 12 and 13 this year.

On the first day of the meeting, the Bangladesh delegation demanded that India assure Bangladesh of providing transit passage to facilitate transmission of hydroelectricity from Nepal and Bhutan to Bangladesh, sources said.

In its 8-point charter of demands, the Bangladesh team sought unhindered utilisation of an Indian land corridor for trading between Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. The Bangladesh delegation also asked its Indian counterpart to take effective measures to reduce trade imbalance between the two countries. It submitted a list of some Bangladeshi products, which should be freed from tariff barriers imposed by the Indian government.

These conditions include Bangladesh's right to purchase gas from Myanmar, if need be, and management of the pipeline. It is learnt that one of the conditions put forward earlier said that Bangladesh would be the sole operator of the pipeline and would be entitled to use it as and when deemed necessary in its own interest, including export and import of gas whenever needed.

As per the decision of the meeting, the three countries would conduct their own feasibility studies and submit the reports within 6 months.
It is learnt that the MoU, after approval of the respective governments, might be signed in April next in Dhaka.

It is learnt that the committee has agreed to the proposal that the tri-nation pipeline would be built, owned and operated by an international consortium-company to be approved by the three countries concerned. Private and public sector companies of Myanmar, Bangladesh and India may also become partners in the international consortium.

UNB adds: Meanwhile, Indian Oil Minister Mani Shankar Aiyer and the envoys of Bangladesh, Myanmar and Pakistan have discussed the potentials of regional energy lifelines to get a fix in future for their fuel-starved economies.

Aiyer hosted a luncheon in New Delhi to say goodby to Bangladesh envoy Md Hemayetuddin who will take over as foreign secretary in Dhaka a week later. Myanmar's U Kyi Thein and Pakistan's Aziz Ahmad Khan were present.

Pipelines dominated the discussion Monday other than culture and history, that's what is going to be common among the four countries, with India negotiating gas supplies from the eastern and western borders, according to a report published in The Times of India Tuesday.

"It will be my top priority to improve ties, both economic and political, with all neighbours, especially India." Hemayetuddin said, adding that the energy lifelines will change the flavour of regional relations.

The Bangladesh envoy, however, landed in a bit of diplomacy on the subject of Bangladesh gas export to India, a politically touchy subject back home.

"We would prefer to be considered Qatar of Asia than any other countries..." he said.

Hemayetuddin was only replying to an anecdote, recounted by one of the invitees at the luncheon, of a past conversation between two diplomats who felt Bangladesh was wasting an opportunity to be rich by refusing to export gas.

But behind those remarks lay a hint that gas export was possible, only it will take a little time, The Times of India said. Aiyer was quick to react, "We're ready to wait for Bangladesh to decide when they want to sell gas. Whenever they do, we're there."

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