Bangladesh, India and Nepal have decided to go ahead with a regional motor vehicles agreement without Bhutan as the country pulled out of the deal.
A tripartite meeting of the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicles Agreement in Delhi came up with the decision on 27 November, Md Nazrul Islam, secretary of Road Transport and Highways Division, told The Business Standard.
"There was no conclusive decision about the enforcement date of the pact. Officials of the three countries will hold some more talks to finalise everything," he added.
The pact was signed on 15 June 2015, in the Bhutanese capital Thimphu to facilitate the cross-border movement of passenger and cargo vehicles. Later, the three countries ratified the agreement while Bhutan backed out.
Subsequently, India had been talking about implementing the pact without Bhutan. According to India, Bhutan could be added to the arrangements anytime if it agrees in future.
Though Bangladesh, India and Nepal earlier agreed on most of the provisions of the draft cargo protocol, the three neighbours could not get to the point over issues such as the weight of the cargo, introducing bank guarantees against cargo freights, and the amount of goods a country can transport through others.
According to officials, India wanted the movement of heavy freight trailers, but Bangladesh opposed it citing its weak infrastructure. The Indian side then proposed limited freight services at the beginning, while Dhaka said it would decide its position later after discussions with experts and stakeholders.
Under the cargo protocol, Bangladesh sought a bank guarantee provision for cargo freights. But India suggested that financial transactions be kept only under customs bonds. However, the meeting finally agreed on the inclusion of bank guarantees in the protocol.
Regarding passenger protocol, Bangladesh proposed establishing Dhaka-Siliguri-Gangtok and Bangladesh-Assam routes, which India agreed to. India also agreed to Bangladesh's proposal to include another two routes to the passenger protocol.
Nepal suggested that the countries have authority in levying charges and approving passengers and cargo movements into their respective territories.
Kathmandu sought a charge and levy waiver on Nepalese cargo. Nepal opposed a fixed cargo transport for all. It said each of the three countries would decide how much cargo they would allow being transported from the neighbours.
Officials at the commerce ministry and the road transport ministry said the transit of the protocol was tailored in line with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Transit under the BBIN protocol will begin after the signing of a Standard of Procedure (SoP) similar to the transit agreement with India for use of Mongla and Chattogram ports. The countries will be performing as respective permit issuance authorities.
In 2017, the Bhutanese parliament decided to opt out of the BBIN agreement for the time being but consented to the other three going ahead. The trial run of the Bangladesh-India-Nepal bus service was conducted in 2018.
Two buses carrying around 45 delegates from the three countries and the Asian Development Bank left Dhaka for Kathmandu via India.
In March this year at a secretary-level Bangladesh-India meeting in Dhaka, Bangladesh highlighted some "futile regional deals". Dhaka also sought Delhi's greater role in reactivating and re-energising the pacts.