KATHMANDU, Feb 17: Nepali and Bangladeshi officials are sitting in Dhaka on Sunday for trade talks, which is expected to finalize modality on full-fledged cargo movement through two Bangladeshi ports and approve list of goods for duty free entry into each other´s market.
The much delayed joint secretary-level technical meeting, originally scheduled for September 2012, is expected to create a ground for formal signing of trade agreement between two south Asian nations at the upcoming commerce secretary-level meeting.
The Nepal-Bangladesh technical committee meeting was last held in Kathmandu in 2009.
Naindra Prasad Upadhyaya, a joint secretary at the Ministry of Commerce and Supplies (MoCS), who is leading Nepali delegation to Dhaka, told Republica on Saturday that the meeting will finalize issues on application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures, duty-free access to each other´s goods and cargo movement through Chittagong and Mongla ports.
The secretary-level talks had previously assigned joint secretaries of both the countries to finalize these issues.
The joint secretary-level meeting will lay the groundwork for creation of uniform standard on determining quality of tradable goods and making the quarantine system effective. It will also push for recognition of quality certificates produced by a country in another country under the SPS regime.
"We will try to strike deals on uncontroversial issues first. Issues that demand additional homework will be finalized later," Upadhyaya said.
Under the application of SPS measures, officials of both the countries are expected to press for maintaining minimum quality standard for food, plants and animal products that are traded between two countries through establishment of effective quarantine system.
The one-day meeting is also expected to finalize operation modality on carriage transit cargo through Chittagong and Mangla ports of Bangladesh.
It is further expected to finalize the list of goods for duty-free entry into each other´s market. During the secretary-level meeting held in Kathmandu on July 30, Bangladeshi side had agreed to provide zero-tariff access to 100 Nepali goods, mainly farm products, although Nepal had requested for duty free entry of 146 products. Bangladesh had also demanded zero tariffs on entry of some of its goods into Nepali market. Bangladesh has been slapping up to 25 percent customs duty on Nepali products.
Nepal has mainly been exporting lentil, vegetables, vegetable seeds, hides, ginger, animal feeds and fruits to Bangladesh. Similarly, pharmaceutical goods, electronics, juice, medicines, cotton, solar batteries, readymade garments, cosmetic items, raw jute and plastic furniture are major imports from Bangladesh.
Nepal and Bangladesh signed a transit treaty in 1976 allowing Nepal to use four trade routes, including Haldibari-Chilahati, Radhikapur-Birol and Phulbari-Banglabanda. However, Nepal has been using Radhikapur-Birol and Phulbari-Banglabanda routes for trade with Bangladesh so far.
Bangladesh had also agreed on allowing Nepal to use Chittagong and Mongla ports in 2004 for bilateral trade. However, Nepal has failed to take advantage of this facility in the absence of necessary infrastructure and vehicle movement modality to facilitate transport of cargos.
Bangladesh has been levying 50 percent charge for handling cargos and using warehouse facility in these ports.
"Though Nepal and Bangladesh signed trade treaty in 1976, bilateral trade hasn´t grown significantly due to presence of weak trade infrastructure. Nepal and Bangladesh have to ensure greater connectivity, with full-fledged utilization of ports and land routes, to boost trade," said Purushottam Ojha, a former commerce secretary.
Data compiled by the Trade and Export Promotion Center show that Nepal exported goods worth Rs 2.57 billion to Bangladesh in 2011/12, while Nepal imported goods worth Rs 8.09 billion from its second largest trading partner in South Asia in the same fiscal year.
However, in the first six months of the current financial year, Nepal´s total exports to Bangladesh rose remarkably by 63 percent to Rs 2.06 billion.
During the meeting scheduled for Sunday, officials of both the countries are also expected to agree on modalities to operate Kathmandu-Dhaka bus service to facilitate movement of people between the two countries.