India wants to start negotiations with Bangladesh for signing a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) soon, preferably next month, as a joint study on the proposed pact was accepted by both the sides, officials said.
Indian Commerce Secretary B V R Subrahmanyam placed the proposal to Bangladesh High Commissioner in New Delhi Muhammad Imran in a recent meeting.
The secretary also insisted that the joint statement of premiers of the two countries, when Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina would visit New Delhi in the first week of September, can stipulate the start of CEPA negotiations.
The Indian commerce secretary suggested that "the joint statement of the VVIP visit may stipulate the starting of FTA (CEPA) negotiation," the high commission informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dhaka.
He reportedly highlighted that the CEPA negotiation "should be done in a way where Bangladesh would be more benefited compared to India."
Bangladesh and India first discussed the possibility of signing a CEPA deal in 2018 in a commerce secretary-level meeting for increasing bilateral trade and overall cooperation.
In the same year, the trade ministers of the two countries agreed to conduct a joint feasibility study on signing CEPA.
The Centre for Regional Trade of India and the Bangladesh Foreign Trade Institute (BFTI) latter jointly conducted a feasibility study and submitted its report to the Ministry of Commerce (MoC).
Officials said the MoC in Dhaka recently convened a meeting to evaluate the joint study report. It suggested that the CEPA negotiations with India could start soon to retain the facilities Bangladesh enjoyed under the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) deal.
As a least developed country (LDC), all but 25 tobacco and alcohol products of Bangladesh are entitled to duty- and quota-free market access facility to India. Bangladesh will lose the facility after 2026, when it will graduate to a developing country.
Dr. Khondaker Golam Moazzem, Research Director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), told the FE last week that India earlier negotiated a number of trade and investment deals with Bangladesh, and many of those are currently in the process of negotiation.
"It is important to review the documents related to those negotiations to understand its (Indian) priorities, offensive and defensive interests, institutions working with negotiations, and institutional measures undertaken to implement such agreements," he said.
He suggested forming a highly competent technical team in the MoC, where experts from different sectors would be involved on a long-term basis to negotiate the comprehensive deal.