The cabinet has approved a proposal to amend the transit protocol signed between Bangladesh and Nepal to introduce transport of goods by rail between the two nations and agreed to declare Rahanpur railway station in Chapainawabganj as a "port of call".
In addition to carrying out bilateral trade with Bangladesh by rail via India, Nepal will transport its import and export goods using Bangladesh's Mongla port.
A virtual cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday approved it.
As a result of that, although there is an opportunity to transport goods between Bangladesh and Nepal using two Indian railways, only a shorter route will be used.
An upcoming meeting between the two countries' trade secretaries on August 16 will discuss the launch of the rail cargo, commerce ministry officials said.
The meeting will also focus on bilateral trade issues, including the use of the Syedpur Airport in Bangladesh and the operation of the Dhaka-Kathmandu bus service, they said.
The two countries will transport goods from Rahanpur to Biratganj in Nepal via Singabad in Malda and Jasbani in Bihar, India by rail. On this route, the total distance from Rahanpur to Biratganj is 225 kilometres, including 8 kilometres from Rahanpur to Singabad.
According to the transit agreement signed between India and Nepal, there is an opportunity to run trains from Rahanpur to Nepal's Birganj via West Bengal's Biral-Radhikapur-Bihar's Roxal. However, as the distance of this road is 514km, there is no interest in using it.
After the cabinet meeting, Cabinet Secretary Khandaker Anwarul Islam said under the bilateral transit agreement signed with Nepal in 1976, it requested Bangladesh for the rail transit from Rahanpur via India's Singabad.
"Nepal will be able to use this railway to transport goods. We have given Nepal the opportunity to use the ports of Mongla and Chattogram. Along with Nepal, Bangladesh will also benefit from this," he also said.
According to commerce ministry officials, Khulna-Chalna Port, Chattogram Port, Biral, Banglabandha, Chilahati and Benapole were the ports of call under the transit agreement signed with Nepal, where there was no opportunity to establish rail connectivity.
An official of the commerce ministry told The Business Standard that the size of Bangladesh's trade with Nepal is small.
In the 2018-19 financial year, Bangladesh exported goods, including jute products, batteries, readymade garments, toiletries and medicines, worth $38 million to Nepal against an import worth $14 million. Trade is likely to increase once rail cargo starts between the two countries, he said.
Commerce Secretary Md Zafar Uddin on Monday said work was underway on various issues of bilateral connectivity and trade expansion with Nepal.
"Nepal has proposed use of Bangladesh's Syedpur Airport and the launch of Dhaka-Kathmandu bus service. Besides, work is underway on various issues to expand the bilateral trade, which will be discussed at the upcoming meeting."
Zafar said Nepal is very interested in launching cargo trains on the Rahanpur-Singabad-Biratganj route. Because, the distance in this way is the shortest. Nepal will soon start transporting goods on this route.
Nepal wants to use the Syedpur airport, the secretary said, adding that if the two countries agree on this, it will also come up for approval in the cabinet.
During Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India in 2010, India agreed to the issue of using the Rahanpur-Singabad broad gauge railway link as an additional transit route to Nepal.
In September the following year, the country formally decided to give transit facilities to Bangladesh and Nepal using the Indian territory.
Later in 2016, a letter of exchange was signed between Nepal and India regarding the launch of the rail transit with Bangladesh via Singabad in India.
In April last year, Nepal submitted a written proposal to Bangladesh to introduce the rail transit using the Rahanpur-Singabad route.
As a preparation for the August 16 meeting with Nepal, a draft position paper was prepared at a meeting chaired by Additional Secretary (FTA) of the commerce ministry Sharifa Khan on Monday.
The paper says Bangladesh is in favour of implementing the Dhaka-Kathmandu bus service under the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement.
According to the draft, Nepal sent a note verbale to Bangladesh in April last regarding the use of Syedpur Airport. The country wants to use it to establish air connectivity with its Biratnagar or Bhadrapur. In addition, there are a number of issues related to removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers in expanding tourism cooperation and bilateral trade between the two nations.
Deal with Saudi Arabia
The cabinet approved a draft contract to exchange customs information between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia.
It also approved draft agreements with the Maldives and the Czech Republic on the issues of tax evasion and avoidance of double taxation.
The cabinet secretary said, "We have good contact with Saudi Arabia. Customs is a big factor in that communication. So, the deal will be signed for the exchange of information on tariffs in Saudi Arabia and cooperation in preventing duty evasion."
He added that the agreement would further boost bilateral trade between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia. "It will also play an important role in preventing illegal trade and smuggling of goods."
Trust for film artistes
The cabinet on Monday also gave a consent to the draft of the "Bangladesh Film Artists' Welfare Trust Act, 2020" to mainly ensure overall welfare of the actors and actresses of the Bangladesh film industry and enhance their professional excellence.
Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam told a news briefing following the meeting that the law has been formulated in line with the prime minister's directive to provide financial assistance to insolvent and incapable artists for their welfare and treatment as well.
The proposed law also suggested to help the dependents of artists after their death and execute its other activities, he said.
He added that there would be a 13-member board of the trustee with the information minister as its chairman to operate its activities with its own and government allocated money.
As per the draft law, the trust would get a managing director who will act as its executive officer, Anwarul said.
The trust can receive grants and loans for its operation, he said, adding that it would have to take a prior permission in this regard.