India, Bangladesh discuss trade, Teesta development project

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New Delhi: Foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra and the top leadership of Bangladesh on Thursday discussed cooperation on a wide range of issues, including ways to boost trade and New Delhi’s role in Dhaka’s plan to dredge and develop its section of the cross-border Teesta River.
Kwatra was on his first official visit to Bangladesh after the formation of the new government by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in January. Besides reviewing the overall bilateral relationship at a meeting with his counterpart Masud Bin Momen, Kwatra also discussed a planned visit to India by Hasina in June or July, people familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.
The foreign secretary also met Hasina and foreign minister Hasan Mahmud. The visit was in line with the highest priority accorded to India’s “Neighbourhood First” policy and is expected to strengthen bilateral ties and impart momentum to cooperation in diverse areas, the external affairs ministry said in a statement.
The review of bilateral ties encompassed political and security issues, defence, water, trade and investment, power and energy, connectivity and sub-regional cooperation, the statement said.
Following his meeting with Kwatra, foreign minister Mahmud told the media in Dhaka that India has expressed interest in financing Bangladesh’s planned project to dredge and develop its section of the Teesta River.
“You know, we have taken [up] a big project on the Teesta. India wants to finance this project. It will have to be implemented in line with our needs. We want to see our needs fulfilled,” Mahmud was quoted as saying by United News of Bangladesh news agency.
Mahmud was responding to a question on whether the two sides discussed the Teesta issue. He added that he had raised the issue of sharing river waters, including Dhaka’s long-standing demand for a water-sharing agreement on the Teesta River, held up since 2011, and the renewal of the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty. This treaty was signed in December 1996 and is valid for 30 years.
China has for long been eyeing Bangladesh’s $1-billion project to develop its section of the Teesta and has submitted a formal proposal. The Indian side has conveyed its concerns about the project being awarded to China, the people cited above said.
Mahmud also indicated the two sides had discussed Hasina’s planned visit to India. “Elections are underway in India. A new government will be formed after the election and then the date will be finalised for the visit,” he said.
A readout from Bangladesh’s foreign ministry said Mahmud had called for an easing of India’s visa issuance process to further strengthen people-to-people contacts.
Bangladeshi officials have said in recent weeks that Bangladeshi nationals, especially businesspeople, are facing problems in obtaining visas. Bangladesh is currently the biggest source country for foreign tourists visiting India.
The readout said the Bangladesh side also emphasised the need to enhance exports to India and sought New Delhi’s support for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.

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