India has chosen to remain silent on the issue of standing duty on Bangladesh’s garment products, a major barrier to the fastest growing apparel export market.
The issue was expected to be addressed at the high-level meeting held between delegations of the two countries in Padma, Dhaka’s state guest house, on September 26, 2018. But, it remained unmentioned, popping questions if it was ever discussed there.
Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed led the Bangladesh side, while the Indian side was led by Suresh Prabhu, Commerce & Industry and Civil Aviation Minister of India, who is now visiting Dhaka on a four-day official visit. The two ministers addressed the press to disclose the contents of the meeting, but refrained from taking any questions.
However, what came from the meeting was Bangladesh’s agreement to sign Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), a free trade deal which will further strengthen trade, economic and investment ties between the two countries; and serve as a “bilateral arrangement to enhance trade and commerce between the two countries as Bangladesh graduates from the LDC status in the next few years”.
Neither sides disclosed when the deal, which has been India’s top agenda for a year now, will be signed.
India and Bangladesh have an existing Trade Agreement and both countries are also members of the Agreement on South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), under which India has granted duty free quota free access to Bangladesh as a least developed country (LDC).
Despite such a standing agreement, duty issues surfaced in discussion after India imposed the anti-dumping duty on jute and jute goods in January 2017. Delhi has a standing 12.5 per cent countervailing duty on garment items, which is vexing apparel exporters.
Though there has been no light shed on the standing duty against garment exports to India, Minister Suresh Prabhu assured Bangladesh that Delhi is working to withdraw the anti-dumping duty on the jute and jute-made products.
Notably, Bangladesh’s trade gap with India is heavily lopsided towards India. According to statistics, last fiscal, the gap was over US $7.7 billion.
Also, India remains the fastest growing market for Bangladesh’s garment products. Last fiscal, apparel exports to the country from Bangladesh witnessed a 100 per cent gain with an export sum of US $278 million. Up until August 2018, Bangladesh saw an export gain of over 138 per cent from apparel exports to India during the first two months of fiscal 2018-19, with a sum of US $101 million.