Vol. 5 Num 194 Thu. December 09, 2004  
Front Page

Dhaka, Delhi keen on Safta, not FTA
Saifur says rail not road transit to be considered

Finance Minister M Saifur Rahman yesterday said with South Asian Free Trade Area (Safta) coming into being in 2006, neither Bangladesh nor India is interested in a bilateral free trade area (FTA).

"FTA will not be meaningful… it will not work," he told newspersons at Zia International Airport at the end of a five-day visit to New Delhi.

Safta would be the solution for promoting trade and investment on the regional plane, he added.

"During my visit, I have not come across any businessman or minister there who is interested in the FTA. And during our discussions, neither the Indian prime minister nor any other minister raised the issue.

"If the Safta agreement is properly implemented, there will be increased trade and Saarc as a whole will benefit," he maintained.

Saifur also emphasised the need for accelerating execution of the Safta agreement signed by the South Asian nations at the last South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (Saarc) summit. "Saarc will remain a talk-show without having Safta implemented."

He also stressed a better India-Pakistan relationship. "Now that their relationship has improved, Saarc can use it to forge better co-operation between its member countries."

He said he had told the Indian government that India being a big nation has to adopt a liberal attitude to make Saarc more effective. "The European Union has been made a success story because of the [liberal] roles of France and Italy," he pointed out.

The agenda of Saifur's discussions with Indian leaders included a trans-national gas pipeline, bilateral trade barriers and trade deficit, land transit for Bangladesh through India connecting Nepal, and other economic issues.

Saifur also met Indian ministers for finance, defence, commerce, agriculture and petroleum, the national security adviser to prime minister, former prime minister and finance minister as well as business magnates including Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata.

On transit issue, Saifur said Dhaka would consider rail transit for India, as Bangladesh has developed a good railway system, but it is not possible to offer India road transit.

"Delhi wants transit for all modes of transportation from us," he said, "but the fact is, we have been asking India for the last 30 years for only a 13km road transit to Nepal, which it did not give us."

On the trans-national gas pipeline connecting Myanmar, India and Bangladesh, Saifur said he had not discussed the issue with the Indian premier. He did not say whether he had discussed the issue with any other minister.

But he noted, "We have some business problems with India. We have to decide whether this pipeline will be a joint venture or which are the best places to take this pipeline through." All problems between India and Bangladesh to that end will be discussed with the aim of a package deal, he added.

On Tata Group's investment proposal in Bangladesh, he said they are very much enthusiastic about doing business here, though the Indian leaders are trying to convince them to keep their proposed projects in India.

"They (Tata) are convinced of the [good] investment climate in Bangladesh. The Tata chairman has also some emotional attachment to Bangladesh," Saifur said.

The finance minister during his visit also attended a three-day India Economic Summit co-organised by World Economic Forum and Confederation of Indian Industry, where he spoke on 'Creating a Dynamic South Asian Region'.