NEW DELHI/DHAKA: India and Bangladesh agreed on Tuesday to start talks on a comprehensive economic partnership agreement and to strengthen regional connectivity, as their leaders meet in New Delhi to boost bilateral ties.
Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is on a four-day visit to India as part of a trip that is seen as politically significant ahead of her country’s general elections next year. Hasina and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed investment, water resources, and border management during their meeting in the Indian capital.
Bangladesh is India’s biggest development and trade partner in the region, Modi said, as he announced the beginning of talks for a new economic pact.
“We will soon initiate discussions on a bilateral economic comprehensive partnership agreement,” Modi said during a joint press conference.
“We both believe we have to learn lessons from the COVID pandemic and recent international events and we have to strengthen our economies further.”
The two countries have a significant trade imbalance, however. Bangladesh imported goods worth around $14 billion from India, while exports ran lower at $1.8 billion, according to official figures from the 2021-22 fiscal year.
India and Bangladesh are working on “connecting power transmission lines” between their countries to address the growing cost of energy around the world, and signed various agreements to further cooperation in rail connectivity and sharing of water resources, among others.
The neighbors share a 4,000 km border and long historical ties dating back to 1971, when New Delhi played a major role in the Bangladesh Liberation War.
Hasina said India is “the most important and closest neighbor” of Bangladesh.
“Bangladesh-India bilateral relations are known to be a role model for neighborhood diplomacy,” she said.
Infrastructure projects between the two countries will likely play a key role in boosting bilateral relations, according to experts.
“The kind of work India and Bangladesh are doing in terms of collaborative projects, whether it be cross borders or other joint collaboration, it is something South Asia has never seen before,” Sreeradha Dutta, of New Delhi-based think tank Vivekanand International Foundation, told Arab News.
“Many of the infrastructure projects that we are doing actually have laid the foundation for a much larger transport corridor which we are thinking of in terms of sub-regions of South Asia. India and Bangladesh are working on projects which are very critical for the whole region.”
Munshi Faiz Ahmad, former Bangladesh ambassador to China, told Arab News that as Bangladesh’s main priority is economic development and the country is faced with a shortage of funds, investments from abroad as well as technology assistance to build infrastructure are also important.
Hasina met Indian businessman Gautam Adani, who recently became the world’s third-richest person, as part of her visit, and is scheduled to meet with more business leaders in India on Wednesday.
“We have come to a point in economic development where further development will stagnate if we do not act quickly on improving our infrastructure,” Ahmad said.
“All in all, (in) these areas our two countries enjoyed good cooperation, but there’s a huge scope for further expansion of that cooperation.”