Even as the National Assembly is scheduled to discuss Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal Motor Vehicle Agreement (BBIN MVA) on June 21, around 500 truckers in the country submitted a signed appeal letter to the Prime Minister requesting the government not to ratify the sub-regional motor vehicle agreement.
Bangladesh, India and Nepal have already completed the ratification process and are currently waiting for Bhutan’s ratification of the agreement. The BBIN MVA is expected to ease the rules and procedures for vehicles from these four countries while entering into each other’s territory, easing obstacles to intra-regional transport and trade among these countries.
The appeal letter submitted by the truck drivers states that the truckers who have put up this appeal depend exclusively on trucks to meet daily needs and most were still struggling to pay back the loans to financial institutions.
“At such juncture, the news about the BBIN MVA has come as a shock to us and affected us mentally. We would like to inform Your Excellency that we meet our ends by plying between Bhutan and Bangladesh and also through India. As trucks from the above country have not been coming into Bhutan, we were in a comfortable position,” states the letter.
The letter says the truck drivers were concerned that even if the government is able to include provisions to protect their interest at the moment, a time may come when clauses affecting the Bhutanese truckers may need to be included.
“If BBIN is instituted, hundreds of trucks from the three countries would enter our country. We may not be able to be in a position to compete with them and thus lose all the business to them,” it says.
One of the truck drivers Business Bhutan spoke to, Tshagay, said they would have to look for a different job if the agreement came into effect. “We simply cannot compete with the truckers from these three countries,” he said.
The information and communications minister, Lyonpo D.N. Dhungyel said, “We are concerned with the number of truck drivers who have appealed to reconsider the agreement.”
Lyonpo said the ministry will meet as many truck drivers as possible and clarify the government’s stand on the BBIN MVA to them.
“The second stakeholders meeting on 04 May 2016 was called to share the outcome of the Dhaka meeting held on 29-30 March among the four countries. These stakeholders were specifically told that while the existing arrangement will continue for India/Bhutan traffic, vehicles from other countries would restrict their operation up to the border towns only, based on the agreed corridors and the number of vehicles,” said Lyonpo. “The stakeholders concurred with the outcome and reiterated their support in the interest of promoting transport connectivity, sub-regional economic integration and enhancing trade.”
The Opposition Leader, Dr (PhD) Pema Gyamtsho said that the opposition party Druk Phuensum Tshogpa is also against the endorsement of the BBIN particularly since Bhutan does not have adequate infrastructure to cope with increased flow of vehicles nor the absorption capacity for increased number of visitors.
“The benefits from signing BBIN are at best speculative. On the other hand, the adverse impacts it would have on the livelihoods of our people engaged in the transport sector, on our environment, culture and security are obvious,” said the Opposition Leader.
Dr (PhD) Pema Gyamtsho said truckers, taxi and bus operators will lose out to competition from outside in terms of both capacity and pricing. “Bhutan’s pristine environment and unique culture will come under increasing strain through increased air pollution and wastes, exposure to external culture and values,” he said. “Law and order situation may become challenging and increasing crime and trafficking of drugs may result.”
Apart from the limited quantities of agricultural produces, the Opposition Leader said Bhutan hardly export any goods. Hence, for an import driven economy like Bhutan’s, BBIN MVA, he said, would only result in further increasing imports and making us more dependent rather than enhancing trade as a whole.
The information and cmmunicatoins minister Lyonpo D.N.Dhungyel said the issues of inadequate infrastructure and fragile road network have already been brought to the notice of other three neighbors and they have understood our position very clearly. “We also clearly spelt out the asymmetry between Bhutan and other participating countries. Asymmetry with respect to size of the country, population and infrastructure,” said Lyonpo.
It was for this reason, said Lyonpo, that other three countries have agreed in principle to defer the movement of passenger vehicles and to limit cargo vehicles up to border towns only.”
With the cross-border transportation taking place only through the defined corridors, based on pre-determined number of vehicles as provided in the Agreement and the Protocol, the question of unlimited number of vehicles operating into Bhutan does not arise,” said Lyonpo D.N.Dhungyel.
The BBIN agreement was signed a year back on 15 June last year.