Economic Affairs Minister responds on broadening and diversifying trade routes

When introducing the Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) between Bhutan and Bangladesh to the members of the National Council (NC) on Thursday, Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma was questioned on the measures the government is taking to explore other trade route options, besides the ones in India.

Deputy Chairperson of NC’s Economic Affairs Committee Jigme Wangchuk questioned the minister about the relevance of the trade routes through India and measures the government is taking to explore other options.

The NC member added that since Bhutan and Bangladesh do not share a border, Bhutan must trade with Bangladesh through India.

“In the meantime, there are not many problems with India when it comes to exporting goods, but there is a risk that problems might occur while trading with Bangladesh using the Indian routes,” MP Jigme Wangchuk said.

In response, Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that the government is already exploring other ways and more options for the convenience of the Bhutanese traders. Currently, the primary goal is to determine the best entry and exit points.

“Agartala and Agora (Bangladesh border) are distinguished as a vital routes from the Assam side where there is a railway line between India and Bangladesh, which we are permitted to utilize,” the minister said.

The minister said the government is also in the process of talking with authorities of India to permit Bhutan to use the new railway line near Siliguri, India.

“It will highly benefit the people of Samtse and Phuentsholing if we can use that route to trade with Bangladesh,” he added.

Meanwhile, Lyonpo also said that Bhutan could have inland waterways to Bangladesh via Sunkosh in Dagana.

“The Sunkosh runs via the Brahmaputra River, and it presents a minor opportunity. However, this does not imply that we will implement it. We are currently performing a feasibility study,” the minister said.

Meanwhile, the NC member from Sarpang, Anand Rai, also questioned the minister about the chances of inflation in the country due to insufficient products if exported to Bangladesh.

Responding to the question, the minister said Bhutan exported about 90 products to Bangladesh earlier, which was sufficient in Bhutan as well as to export to Bangladesh.

However, on inflation, the minister said, “Inflation is not due to trade; it is based solely on the manufacturers.”

After the question-hour session, the House of Representatives approved all 22 articles of the PTA and urged the committee to prepare the agreement for adoption by revising Article 19.

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu