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Bangladesh-Nepal relations: Connectivity and business

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Nepal is eager to gear up business and connectivity through railway, road and air communication with Bangladesh. Moreover, the Himalayan state is looking forward to explore the tourism and energy sectors as well as other bilateral trading.

Diplomats of Bangladesh and Nepal have said that the issues would be discussed in the upcoming summit meeting of Bangladesh president Abdul Hamid and his Nepalese counterpart Bidya Devi Bhandari.

Themed with ‘Mujib Chirantan’, the government is going to organise a 10-day programme from 17 March to mark the golden jubilee of Bangladesh’s independence and the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

The elaborate programme will be attended by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, Nepalese president Bidya Devi Bhandari, Sri Lankan prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Maldives president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Bhutanese prime minister Lotay Tshering.

Nepalese president Bidya Bhandari is scheduled to arrive in Dhaka on 22 March. The next day she would attend at a thematic programme titled ‘Banglar Maati Aamar Maati’.

Nepalese ambassador to Dhaka Banshidhar Mishra recently told Prothom Alo that the president of Nepal would discuss various bilateral issues including business and connectivity during her Dhaka visit.

“The visit will strengthen bilateral relations while bringing it to a new height,” Banshidhar said.

Widening connectivity

Currently, the communication between Bangladesh and Nepal is dependent only on the Dhaka-Kathmandu air connection. Nepal wants to widen the radius across the airports in Chattogram and Sylhet. Discussions on introducing air connectivity between Saidpur and Biratnagar has been going on since 2016. Nepal revived the issue at the latest commerce secretary-level meeting. High officials of the two countries believe that a 15-20-minute flight distance between Saidpur and Biratnagar would help enhance connectivity.

Diplomatic sources of Nepal have said that the road communication between the two countries is still very limited despite the links of Banglabandha of Bangladesh and Kakarbhitta of Nepal to the Asian Highways. Multiple visa from India becomes a barrier. The officials hope for road communication between the two countries after a quick settlement of the visa issue.

Dhaka-based diplomats informed this correspondent that the latest Rohanpur-Singhabad railway in India has opened up a new avenue for the transit of cargo and passenger trains among the three countries.

Nepal wants to access the port facilities at Chattogram and Mongla as a back-up of its dependency on the Haldia port in Kolkata, officials said.

Purchase of electricity and other products

There are demands for Bangladesh-made furniture, motorbikes, snacks and construction material in Nepal. On the other hand, Bangladesh imports herbal products and seasonal vegetables from Nepal. Bilateral discussions over introducing a preferential trade agreement (PTA) between the two countries are underway. Although the PTA is not drafted yet, a list of the trade-worthy products has been exchanged.

Bangladesh shows interest in purchasing electricity from Nepal. As there is no transmission network between Nepal and Bangladesh, India has agreed to give access of its transmission lines to facilitate trade. Nepal sees electricity as an opportunity to boost business with Bangladesh.

Foreign affairs secretary (east) Mashfee Binte Shams, also former Bangladesh ambassador to Kathmandu, told Prothom Alo that Nepal produces surplus renewable energy and environment-friendly hydropower.

“However, we need to analyse the potentiality in the electricity imports as we have to fix our position according to our master plan,” she said.

Bangladesh: Trusted destination for Nepalese students

Most of the Nepalese physicians have received their MBBS degree from Bangladesh-based medical colleges. The education facility is another crucial part of the Bangladesh-Nepal relations.

According to Banshidhar Mishra, Nepalese ambassador to Dhaka, there are more than 4000 Nepalese students currently studying at different institutions–mostly medical colleges–in Bangladesh.

“Most of the medical experts in Nepal have studied in Bangladesh. Patients trust physicians with Bangladeshi medical degrees.

Foreign affairs minister officials say that around 500 to 600 Nepalese students study in Bangladesh every year. Of them, 80 per cent study at the public and private medical colleges and the rest at engineering and leather technology universities.

*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Sadiqur Rahman.