Bangladesh and Bhutan yesterday agreed in principle to work on duty- and quota-free access of a number of goods of the two countries to each other's market for mutual benefits.
The issue was discussed at the official bilateral meeting held between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Bhutanese counterpart Dr Lotay Tshering.
Bhutan sought duty- and quota-free access of 16 products, while Bangladesh sought that of its 10 items, said Senior Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque while briefing reporters after the meeting at the Prime Minister's Office.
“Bhutan sought the duty-and quota-free access of 16 goods to Bangladesh market. Our prime minister said she'll consider it. It's expected that it'll happen,” he said.
“There were positive discussions on it at the meeting. Our prime minister said the duty-and quota-free access of our 10 products will be negotiated. Now, we assume both sides have agreed in principle on it. Now, it has to be worked out at the technical level,” the foreign secretary added.
At the hour-long meeting, Sheikh Hasina led the Bangladesh team, while Dr Lotay Tshering the Bhutanese side.
After the talks, the two sides signed five bilateral instruments to enhance cooperation on inland waterways, health, agriculture, tourism sectors and Public Administration Training Centres.
These instruments are expected to enhance cooperation on cargo transportation, cooperation in health, agriculture and tourism sectors and cooperation between the Public Administration Training Centres of the two countries for exchange of faculty members as well as training and capacity building.
The two prime ministers were present at the signing ceremony.
During the talks, the two countries put emphasis on strengthening cooperation on trade, business and connectivity, said the foreign secretary.
Bangladesh has a historical relation with Bhutan as it was the first country to recognise Bangladesh as an independent country on December 6 in 1971, he said.
Over the years, this relationship has developed from strength to strength, the foreign secretary said adding that the trade figures and people-to-people contact in tourism sector of the two countries have increased, particularly after Hasina's visit to Bhutan in 2017.
Shahidul Haque said the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) initiative was also discussed at the meeting.
Though all the countries signed the BBIN initiative, Bhutan is yet to place any proposal to ratify the initiative of sub-regional connectivity in South Asia.
At the bilateral talks, it was said the new Bhutanese government will place a fresh bill in their upper house of parliament in this regard.
“They're very optimistic about it,” the foreign secretary said.
He said Bhutan also showed interest to hire Bangladeshi specialist doctors to meet up demand of such physicians to improve its health sector.
In this connection, the PM said she will personally look into the matter.
Pointing out that the cooperation between the two countries in the field of health sector is increasing, the foreign secretary said the number of seats for Bhutanese students in Bangladesh medical and nursing colleges have risen to 15 from 10.
Dr Tshering, who was a student of Mymensingh Medical College, highly appreciated Bangladesh's pharmaceutical industry for producing quality drugs, said the foreign secretary.
He said the two sides discussed the regional electricity trade.
Haque said discussions are underway to produce hydropower in Bhutan and marketing that in the region.
Hasina mentioned that Bangladesh is going to invest in hydroelectricity in Bhutan. "The discussion is at the advanced stage, and we hope an agreement to this end will be signed soon," Haque said.
He added there will be trilateral cooperation, and if hydroelectricity is produced in Bhutan, it will be marketed in India and Bangladesh.
The Bhutanese PM also highly praised the leadership of Hasina, he said.
Mentioning the significant role of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for the development of this region, Dr Lotay Tshering said Bhutan has deep respect in her leadership.
About autism awareness campaign, the Bhutanese Prime Minister noted that Saima Wazed Hossain, the daughter of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has made huge contributions to it, the Foreign Secretary said.