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Dhaka expects rise in regional exports

Haroon Habib

Cabinet ratifies South Asian Free Trade Area modalities on Monday

DHAKA : Bangladesh has ratified South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) and expects exports to increase with the new arrangement scheduled to come into effect on January 1, 2006.

The Cabinet at its weekly meeting on Monday ratified the modalities with Prime Minister Khaleda Zia in the chair.

The modalities were finalised at the 12th meeting of the Committee of Experts (COE) on SAFTA in Kathmandu.

To kick off the free trade, other member-states will have to do the same and notify their approval to the modalities agreed upon by the negotiators at the meeting.

Some analysts believe, Bangladesh's exports to South Asian nations could rise by four times once the regional free trade accord takes effect. Ananya Raihan, Executive Director of the Development Research Network (D.Net), said Bangladesh would be the top gainer among the LDCs in the region as it has the ability to offer more products for trading regionally than countries such as Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives.

Mustafizur Rahman, Director, Research, of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), however, said a major growth in exports could not be expected without raising the capacity to maintain a steady supply of products.

On prospect of growth in India's export to Bangladesh, he said Bangladesh's tariff level was lower than that of India. A major growth in India's export to Bangladesh may not be possible, as Dhaka was already importing most of the required commodities from India. Imports from India might go up to around $3.00 billion in the short-term.

The total intra-regional trade amongst SAARC countries is less than $ 7 billion as against the combined international trade of $350 billion carried out by the region.

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