A prescheduled meeting regarding a joint feasibility study on signing a bilateral free-trade area (FTA) deal between Bangladesh and China stands postponed again following reluctance of high-ups in Dhaka, sources said.
China had shown interest in hosting the first meeting which was preliminarily scheduled to be held in December last and later on January 7-8 in Beijing.
However, at the eleventh hour, high-ups at the Bangladesh Ministry of Commerce (MoC) decided not sit for the talks at this moment, the sources said.
And there was no indication either of a possible fresh timeframe.
"A new date for the meeting has not been sorted out," a senior official at the MoC told the FE, without elaborating on the reasons behind skipping the scheduled meeting.
Commerce secretary Shubhashish Bose could not be reached over telephone for a comment despite several attempts.
Sources said as the scheduled meeting was put off, the Chinese embassy in Dhaka now began seeking a new date for holding the talks.
Bangladesh and China inked a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for conducting a joint feasibility study on the signing of an FTA deal when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Dhaka in October 2016.
A month before the signing of the MoU China in a letter formally had proposed conducting the study to check suitability of the formation of a free-trade area.
China also expressed willingness to provide necessary funds to conduct the study on merits of such free trade.
Data show that Bangladesh's imports from China cost US$9.0 billion while exports to the giant market fetch only around $800 million.
Officials said from goods imported from China the government of Bangladesh earns over $2.70 billion as revenue. If duty-free market access is granted to Chinese products under the proposed FTA deal, Bangladesh will lose such a big amount of revenue.
China has granted duty-free market access of 4,886 products from least-developed countries (LDCs) to its market.
Bangladeshi goods also enjoy the facility since the country is also an LDC. Almost similar numbers of Bangladeshi products also enjoy duty-free access to the Chinese market under the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA) since 2010, according to officials.
Trade officials fear that Bangladesh's local industry will lose out on FTA with a country like China having large production capacity at very competitive prices. They said interests of exporters, importers, domestic industry, and consumers have to be kept in balance before signing any preferential deal with any country. Country's trade leaders also stand opposed to signing FTA with countries like China and Malaysia which may affect industrial growth over here.
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