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Joint Consultative Commission meeting: Bangladesh may seek fair treatment in investments, visas

| Updated: September 29, 2020 15:09:46

Flags of Bangladesh and India are seen cross-pinned in this photo symbolising friendship between the two nations Flags of Bangladesh and India are seen cross-pinned in this photo symbolising friendship between the two nations

Bangladesh plans to raise some discriminatory measures taken by the Indian government regarding investments and visa extension as foreign ministers of the both nations meet today (Tuesday).

Bangladesh's foreign minister Dr AK Abdul Momen and his Indian counterpart will lead their respective sides in the Joint Consultative Commission meeting (JCC) to be held virtually.

The 'Master Direction on Foreign Investment in India', updated on March 08, 2019 says any investment by a person who is a citizen of Bangladesh or Pakistan or is an entity incorporated in Bangladesh or Pakistan requires prior government approval.

The same regulation says, " A person who is a citizen of Pakistan or an entity incorporated in Pakistan can, only with the prior government approval, invest in sectors/ activities other than defence, space, atomic energy and sectors/ activities prohibited for foreign investment."

As one of the closest allies in the region, Bangladesh feels India should drop such rules, which put the country on par with Pakistan.

After the border clash with China, Indian government issued another directive under which some neighbouring countries, including China, Pakistan and Bhutanese companies were barred from taking part in any kind of bidding in India without prior government approval.

Though later, Bangladesh and Bhutan were exempted from the restrictions.

"We feel the Indian government should be cautious while imposing restrictive measures on Bangladesh as it hurts the essence of our 'wonderful friendship,'" said an official.

The sudden ban on onion export to Bangladesh also fuelled discomfort among ordinary Bangladeshis.

These issues may come up in the JCC, foreign ministry officials said.

On the other hand, a visa regulation, introduced by India about two years ago, has caused resentment among many in Bangladesh.

Due to this regulation, Bangladeshi Muslims are now paying a penalty, which is at least 200 times as much the minorities, mainly Hindus, pay if they overstay in India.

Foreign ministry officials described it as "discrimination" on the religious grounds.

The officials said that omitting such rules would help further strengthen the ties between the two countries.

However, on the rule regarding the investment policy, Indian officials have recently maintained such rules are not being applied to Bangladeshi investors.

"We have pointed out the issue during the visit of the Indian foreign secretary Harsha Bardhan Shringla, but he told us that such restrictions are not enforced on Bangladeshi investors," president of a leading business chamber told the FE on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, foreign minister Dr Moment told the FE that the joint commission will mainly focus on trade, connectivity, water sharing and LoC projects.

He also said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have a virtual talk with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in December and that can provide "better outcome" on many pending issues.

But he pointed out he is not expecting very good outcome from the JCC as the time limit will be too short.

"We will have 30 minutes, and they will have 30 minutes. Within such a short time it will be very difficult to sort out key issues in the virtual platform. So we are not expecting that much from the JCC this time," he said, adding usually the meeting lasts for around three hours.

Another key focus of the JCC this time will be finalisation of the programmes for the Mujib Birth Centenary and for the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic ties between the two countries. The JCC is regarded as crucial this time in the wake of the regional geopolitical development, specially the rising tensions between China and India over recent border clashes.

"Not only the Teesta, we shall also discuss on the water sharing issues of all common rivers," the minister said

Holding of the Joint River Commission meeting, which is a long due, will also come up in the meeting and he hoped the two ministers will give a guideline for this so that both sides can hold the meeting soon.

The last JRC was held 11 years ago, he said, adding the JCC can have a decision to hold it soon, he added.

The meeting will also focus on the quick implementation of the projects taken under the Indian Line of Credit.

There is also a proposal for creating a mechanism so that the progress of the LoC projects can be reviewed by a secretary-level body.

At the JCC meeting, Dhaka is also expected to urge New Delhi to withdraw the anti-dumping duty (ADD) and refrain from imposing countervailing duty (CVD) on the import of jute goods from Bangladesh.

A senior official of the Jute and Textile Ministry (MoJT) said, "We have already proposed that the foreign ministry include the ADD and CVD issues in the meeting agenda and we are expecting that the Bangladesh side will strongly raise the issues at the meeting."

Earlier, India invited Bangladeshi officials to discuss the issue as New Delhi seeks to protect its mills by imposing yet another bout of safeguard duty on jute products from Dhaka.

Anti-dumping duties are generally slapped by a country on the imported products that are improperly subsidised and protectionist in nature.

The neighbouring country wants to launch an investigation into the import of jute products from Bangladesh in an attempt to impose countervailing duty on it.

The subsidised jute products, such as sacks, clothes and yarn, will come under the investigation, officials concerned said.

Director General of Trade Remedies (DGTR) of India has recently invited Bangladesh to a consultative meeting in this connection, they said.

Consultation is a prior condition or first step towards starting investigation if a country wants to impose countervailing duty on products coming from other country, they added.

The move has been taken following the application of the Indian Jute Mills Association.



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