NEW DELHI: With a UN body elevating Bangladesh from being a least developed country (LDC) to that of a developing country earlier this year, Bangladeshi High Commissioner to India Syed Muazzem Ali on Wednesday said that cooperation between his country and India in the areas of connectivity, trade and commerce, and energy will mutually benefit both sides.
Addressing a Track 1.5 dialogue on "Bangladesh's Graduation from LDC: New Frontiers and Horizons of India-Bangladesh Economic Engagement" organised by the Bangladesh High Commission and industry body Ficci here, Ali said that Bangladesh's "biggest neighbour and trusted friend" India emerging as a global power with strong economic growth coupled with scientific and technological advancement offers his country "enormous opportunity" to further its own economic development.
On March 15, the UN Committee for Development Policy (CDP) announced that Bangladesh had met the three graduation criteria - Gross National Income (GNI), Human Asset Index (HAI) and Economic Vulnerability Index (EVI) - required for the elevation for the first time.
The country of 160 million people met the three criteria by the end of the financial year 2016-17.
While Bangladesh's GNI per capita stood at $1,620 against the threshold of $1,230 or above, its HNI was 72.8 against the target of 66 or above and EVI was 24.8 against the target of 32 or below.
Ali said that cooperation between India and Bangladesh is expanding in a number of areas like security, energy, connectivity, trade and commerce, culture and people-to-people contact.
"In view of Bangladesh's recent significant achievement, I believe there is enormous scope to combine our synergies particularly in the areas of connectivity, trade and commerce and energy, which will bring mutual benefit for both the countries as well as for the region," he said.
"Connectivity offers a game-changing opportunity for India and Bangladesh which would bring about unprecedented benefit for us as well as for the region."
The High Commissioner said that both India and Bangladesh are working to restore road, rail and coastal shipping links that existed in the pre-Partition period.
"At the same time, new land ports and better infrastructure are built to facilitate better trade," he said.
Stating that Bangladesh figures prominently in India's Act East Policy, Ali said that both countries are working to strengthen sub-regional cooperation within Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Northeast India under the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement as well as strengthening inter-regional cooperation with Southeast Asia through the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
Bimstec comprises seven countries lying in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal - Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
The main objective of Bimstec is technical and economic cooperation among South Asian and Southeast Asian countries along the rim of the Bay of Bengal.
The Asean regional bloc comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Ali said that the BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement would come into operation soon with Bangladesh, India and Nepal having ratified the agreement and Bhutan also to join soon.
He also stressed on greater economic integration and said that his country is happy that its trade and commerce with India is increasing.
"Bangladesh has offered three Special Economic Zones for Indian investors and we seek substantial investment from Indian investors in these three Indian Economic Zones in Bangladesh, namely Mongla, Bheramara and Mirsarai to broaden our exportable base," the High Commissioner said.
"We hope that this would lead to expansion of Bangladesh's exports to India and thus create a balanced trade and commercial bilateral ties."
According to figures provided by the External Affairs Ministry, bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh has grown steadily over the last decade with India's exports to Bangladesh in the period July 2016-March 2017 standing at $ 4.489 billion and imports from Bangladesh during the financial year 2016-17 at $672.40 million.
The High Commissioner also urged Indian investors to take advantage of Bangladesh's competent labour costs and the country's closer proximity to the markets of Northeast India.
Describing cooperation in the energy sector as "the hallmark of our renewed engagements", he said that there are rich opportunities for joint ventures between the two countries as well as in the region.
"With our graduation from LDC to developing country, energy demand and consumption will rise," Ali said.
"Unfortunately, there is no substantial amount of hydro-carbon resources in the region and to fulfill the increasing demand, we have to develop thermal, hydro-electric, gas and nuclear energy as our sources of energy in the region."
Stating that the countries of the region need to devise how fruitfully they can help each other in these sectors to ensure their energy security, the High Commissioner said: "India can play a big role in expanding the energy cooperation in the region."