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Modi, Hasina set to fast-track talks on free trade pact

Modi, Hasina set to fast-track talks on free trade pact

India and Bangladesh are set to give a push to the proposed Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), something that will further boost trade between the neighbours. Sources said that though the broader contours of the agreement are yet to be firmed up, the issue is likely to be taken up the two governments in the coming weeks. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina are scheduled to hold a virtual meeting on December 16 and 17. The two leaders will officially inaugurate the trans-border rail connectivity between Haldibari in West Bengal and Chilahati located across the border in Nilphamari district after almost 55 years. “This meeting could be more about boosting connectivity between the two nations though issues related to trade are also expected to be taken up,” a person familiar with the development said. Modi is set to participate in the celebrations marking the 50 anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence on March 26 next year. While the two sides have been discussing the issue of a trade agreement since 2018, there has been no major breakthrough as yet. Sources said that India is keen to expedite the process of inking the proposed deal amid aggressive moves by China. “New Delhi will be keen to give a final shape to the agreement but there are a few thorny issues which have been nagging, they need to be ironed out at the earliest,” the source said. In September, India received more than 1,450 tonnes of hilsa fish, a favourite among Bengalis. Bangladesh, which had banned exports of the fish in 2012, gave special permission for this additional shipment. Hasina imposed a ban on hilsa export to India after West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee decided against sharing Teesta water with Bangladesh. <strong>China’s moves</strong> Earlier, in June, China, offered to exempt tariffs on 97 per cent of the products made in Bangladesh, in a bid to woo Dhaka but experts said that the ultimate aim of Beijing is to isolate India. Under the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Beijing and Dhaka have also signed multiple deals amounting to about $21.5 billion to boost infrastructure. However, New Delhi has moved quickly to boost ties with Dhaka. Foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla paid a two-day visit to Bangladesh in August. Notably, this was his first overseas visit since the Coronavirus pandemic broke out in March and also underscores the importance of the “Neighbours First” policy put in place by the Modi government. “Bangladesh is an important ally and the two countries share common cultures. We need to uphold the commonalities,” the source said. Notably, it is not just China that is warming up to Dhaka. In July Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has been trying to raise the Kashmir issue among the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC), had also had a telephonic conservation with Hasina..