Dhaka::Trade and connectivity – issues that have been prioritised in the ongoing bilateral discussions with visiting South Asian leaders – could be high on the agenda at the Bangladesh-Nepal talks as well, said diplomatic sources.
During her visit, Nepalese President Bidya Devi Bhandari will hold talks with her Bangladeshi counterpart Abdul Hamid on various bilateral issues, including enhancing trade and connectivity.
Bidya Devi is due to arrive in Dhaka this morning on a two-day state visit to attend the ongoing celebrations marking Bangabandhu’s birth centenary and the golden jubilee of Bangladesh’s independence.
This will be the first visit of a Nepalese president to Bangladesh.
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said some agreements or memorandums of understanding are expected to be signed in the presence of the presidents of the two countries.
Once those are signed, cultural exchange, trade relations, and tourism between the two nations will be strengthened, he said.
Diplomatic sources said a preferential trade agreement (PTA) could be signed if everything goes well. The two countries have already agreed on this and discussed its various aspects at length.
Nepal has lately been emphasising increasing connectivity and trade with Bangladesh through facilitating air, road, and rail communications. The Himalayan nation is also keen to boost tourism, energy, and trade of various products between the two countries. These issues may come up during the bilateral talks, sources said.
An analysis of the diplomatic talks between Nepal and Bangladesh over the past few years shows that the former wants to further enhance connectivity, which is now limited to air only. It wants to extend the Dhaka-Kathmandu connectivity to Chattogram and Sylhet.
Nepal has been formally discussing air connectivity between Syedpur and Biratnagar since 2016. It raised the issue at the latest trade secretary-level talks between the two countries.
Officials of the two countries think the 15-20 minute air travel between Syedpur and Biratnagar will greatly increase connectivity.
Although Kakarbhitta in Nepal is connected to the Asian Highway through Banglabandha in Bangladesh, road connectivity between the two countries remains limited due to the complexities of obtaining a third country visa. If the visa issue can be resolved soon, road connectivity between the two countries may be enhanced further.
Diplomatic sources said the recently launched rail link with India on the Rohanpur-Singhabad route has opened up new opportunities for freight and passenger train services with Nepal. The rail link can be used to travel to Biratnagar directly from Bangladesh via India.
Apart from that, Nepal is now focusing on using Chattogram and Mongla ports as part of reducing its dependence on Kolkata’s Haldia port.
According to Export Promotion Bureau data, Bangladesh last year exported products worth $38 million to Nepal and imported around $18 million of goods.
The major items exported from Bangladesh to landlocked Nepal include agricultural products, jute and jute goods, engineering products, pharmaceutical products, paper and paper board, cotton, chemical products, ceramic products, glass and glassware, and others.
On the other hand, Bangladesh mainly imports vegetable products, prepared foodstuff, beverages, spirits and vinegar, tobacco, zinc articles, chemical products, sulphur, lime and cement, man-made staple fibre, and soybean oil from Nepal.
President of the Maldives Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa have already participated in the 17-26 March celebrations. Bilateral talks with them focused on increasing connectivity and trade.
Meanwhile, Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering will arrive in Dhaka on 24 March, and Indian Premier Narendra Modi on 26 March.
Tour schedule of the Nepalese president
President Hamid will receive his Nepalese counterpart upon her arrival at Dhaka airport, according to the schedule of his tentative programmes.
After receiving the 21-gun salute, the Nepalese president will be given a guard of honour at the airport. From the airport, she is scheduled to visit the National Martyrs Memorial at Savar to pay tributes to the Liberation War heroes by placing wreaths.
She will then visit Bangabandhu Memorial Museum at Dhanmondi 32 to pay tributes to Bangladesh’s founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the greatest Bengali of all times.
Later in the afternoon, she will attend Bangabandhu’s birth anniversary celebrations as the guest of honour where Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will receive her.
A foreign ministry source said the Nepalese president is scheduled to deliver a statement on the occasion of Bangabandhu’s birth centenary.
Her entourage members include Nepal’s Foreign Affairs Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali and secretaries concerned, as well as senior officials of the foreign ministry, the president’s office, and other ministries concerned.
She will hold talks with President Hamid at Bangabhaban. Foreign Minister Momen will meet her on Monday.
Bidya Devi will attend the state banquet hosted by the president of Bangladesh in her honour.
A cultural troupe will also be part of the Nepalese delegation and will render a performance at Bangabandhu’s birth centenary celebrations in Dhaka.
The Nepalese president is also scheduled to visit the Embassy of Nepal in Dhaka, meet Nepalese nationals in Bangladesh, and attend the luncheon to be hosted in her honour by the ambassador of Nepal to Bangladesh.
Bidya Devi will return to Nepal on Tuesday afternoon. Foreign Minister Momen will see her off at the airport.