Monday, October 11, 2010

Updates (October 12, 2010)

1) BD minister visit

Amid recent diplomatic breakthrough on trade issues with India, a Bangladesh business delegation led by Commerce Minister Faruk Khan will leave here New Delhi on 20 October on a four-day visit aiming at closer, mutually beneficial economic ties. Discussions during the visit are likely to dominate a number of issues including formal inauguration of border `hat’ (market), removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers, duty-free access to Indian market, further reduction of the number of items from India’s negative list, Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and investment, officials said. Meanwhile, a number of deals relating to investment, border `hat’ and removal of trade barriers are likely to be inked during the visit. Leaders of the FBCCI, BGMEA, DCCI, BKMEA, MCCI, CCCI, IBCCI and other business bodies are included in the 22-member delegation who will visit New Delhi.

Assam Tribune adds this: Linky

Khan said, a MoU and a related deal on border haat modalities were to be signed during his visit, paving ways for launching the makeshift frontier bazaars initially at two points of the 4,156 kilometres of the porous borders of the two countries. Bangladesh’s imports from India in 2008-2009 were USD 2.841 billion and exports to India were USD 276.58 million. Total bilateral trade in stood at USD 3.117 billion. According the draft an individual will not be able to trade above USD 50 at the bazaar using both Bangladeshi and Indian currencies while farm and home made items produced in 10 kilometre radius of border bazaar will be allowed to trade in the haats, to be set up within 75 meters of the frontier. Items to be traded at the bazaars included farm products, handicrafts, horticulture, fresh and dry fish, wooden and cane furniture, utensils, farming tools and home-made clothing such as lunghi, gamcha would be eligible for border trading.

A committee comprising government officials and representatives of border guards of both the countries would run and oversee the operations of the haats. He said the bilateral trade and economy were likely to dominate the talks with his Indian counterpart Anand Sharma while Bangladesh would reiterate its call for waiving duty and removal of non-tariff barriers on its apparel exports. It will also be relaxing a universal Indian ban on cotton export for Bangladesh and reconsidering a decision on stamping seals on jute bags from the country. “We expect all the outstanding bilateral trade related issues will be resolved during the meeting in the light of the joint communiqué issued during our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India,” in January this year, Khan said.

Bangladesh has been asking India either to give 61 products duty-free access or a complete duty waiver to all garments products. Under a 2008 bilateral trade agreement India allowed duty-free access of eight million pieces of garment products but the business sources said almost 70 per cent of the quantity was already exported and the rests were expected to be exhausted by the year-end. The minister’s comments came as officials earlier this week said the two countries finalised the modus operandi of the border haats after months of talks with Indian officials as New Delhi agreed not to impose local tax on trading in the borders by the concerned Indian state governments. A commerce ministry official said the differences on issue of taxation delayed the inking of the agreement though the two countries earlier hammered out the draft deal in mid May last in Dhaka in line with a Dhaka-New Delhi deal reached during Sheikh Hasina’s maiden India tour.

According to the negotiated draft of the proposed agreement, trading at the border markets will not be taxed or levied or fall under the foreign trade policies and laws of the two countries as they would initially sat once a week. The official said two such haats would be set up in the first phase - one in northeastern Sunamganj and another in northwestern Kurigram along India’s Meghalaya frontier. He said several clauses were incorporated in the draft agreement in an effort to keep cross-border smugglers away from the facilities and prevent money laundering. Months after Bangladesh’s 1971 independence, the two countries had launched border trading in April 1972 but the authorities were forced to cancel the haats a year later due to rampant smuggling along the border areas. Former Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty two years ago suggested launching of small border trade centres at designated frontier villages on pilot project basis under the supervision of paramilitary frontier guards of the two countries.

2) Meanwhile, Wow, Linky

The process for repatriation of top insurgent leaders from Tripura who had taken shelter on Bangladeshi soil was on, outgoing state police chief Pranay Sahay said today and praised "proactive" steps by the neighbouring country against the extremists. "Now it is clear that two chiefs of two insurgent outfits - Ranjit Debbarma of All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) and Biswamohan Debbarma of National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) are in Bangladesh. The process for handing them over to the security forces is on," Director General of Tripura Police said.

And further, Linky

"In Bangladesh, in view of the crackdown by the security forces of that country against the northeast India militants, the camps of Tripura terrorists have been reduced to 18 now from 45 in 2003."

3) FICN in E. Champaran Linky

Proximity to the Nepal border has made East Champaran notorious for criminal activities. Smuggling of fake currency notes from across the border is rampant in this part of the state. The colloquial expression regarding the authenticity of currency notes of bigger denomination is “Gandhi ji asli, ki nakli hai?”
According to Intelligence Bureau sources, after the notification of the elections in this part of the state, consignments of fake currencies have started reaching sensitive parts of East Champaran, West Champaran and Sheohar through porous borders near Raxaul, Valmikinagar, Bela (Bairgania) and Sikta.

4) What next in Burma? Linky

Once the elections are over, the parliament must be convened within 90 days from the date of the election. The president will be elected in a joint session of both the lower and upper houses and two vice-presidents will be elected from the unsuccessful presidential aspirants. One of the vice-president is likely to be from the ethnic groups. Future plans of Senior General Than Shwe have not been revealed. Will he continue to influence from within as President or as a Minister Mentor (like Lee Kuan Yew) or as an advisor from outside like Ne Win till his death? Despite manoeuvring to keep his loyal subordinates in power in key posts and precluding by law powers for the new government to try the military for any of its past actions, he must be apprehensive of the future.

Only time can tell as to how strong the opposition will be. Despite an alliance, more than one opposition party will be contesting the same seats, which will result in splitting the votes for the opposition and benefit the regime backed parties. With the predictions so far favouring the two proxy parties of the regime (USDP and NUP) and with all odds in their favour, the combined opposition must be considered successful even if it gains 25 per cent of the seats. Even with all her charisma and popularity, the future of Aung San Suu Kyi and her party NLD is not very bright. The party, beleaguered over the years, now disbanded by law and with a faction contesting in the election against the party’s policy of boycotting, has an uphill task to regain the confidence of the people and resurface as a political force. But she cannot be written off.

Even though hopes of democratization may not materialise in the real sense of the term, most analysts are of the opinion that this transition will help in a more equitable economy and areas hitherto neglected such as agriculture, education and health will receive attention through better budget allocations. The hopes of the ethnic groups for more autonomy or a federal type of government might have been dashed but the formation of the regional assemblies after the elections will help the ethnic groups in achieving a sense of participation in local governance with some economic benefits for their region and betterment of their own culture, language, education etc.

Many nations are waiting eagerly to lift the sanctions after elections and take advantage of the energy and natural resources that provide economic opportunities in Myanmar in spite of all the hue and cry on the human rights record of the country. The saving grace will be that there will be a functional legislature in Myanmar irrespective of the fact that bulk of the law makers will be military personnel in civil attire.

5) Patricia Mukhim writes on the woes that befall the NEHU Linky
6) Seems like the recent kidnap by GNLA has pitted GNLA against the Khasi and Jaintia outfits Linky

Outlawed A’chik National Volunteers Council (ANVC), a powerful rebel group in Meghalaya, Thursday offered its assistance to rescue the abducted transport official. “We are ready to assist the state police in their operation to rescue the official if the government sought for our assitance,” ANVC spokesperson Torik Jangning Marak said.

7) Not too keen on the CWG, but this is some news Linky

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is expected to be the chief guest at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi on October 14. State-owned weekly Sunday Observer said in a report that the invitation to Mr. Rajapaksa was intended to signal New Delhi's support for Sri Lanka's bid to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

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