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India and Bangladesh to negotiate free trade pact

Dhaka’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is visiting New Delhi for the second time this month

India and Bangladesh have signed a series of new agreements pledging cooperation in various areas, from their shared border to space, and agreed to start negotiations on free trade during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s second visit to New Delhi this month. 

Hasina’s visit was the first by a foreign head of state to India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s third term started after his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliance won the nation’s general parliamentary elections.

Hasina was among several world leaders, mainly from India’s immediate neighborhood, who attended Modi’s swearing-in ceremony on June 9.

Modi and Hasina, while addressing the press in New Delhi on Saturday, noted that they had discussed furthering defense cooperation, military production, counter-terrorism efforts, the management of the border and other issues. The sides also agreed to revive talks on the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), Modi said. 

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New Delhi will continue engaging with Dhaka in the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and other international forums. The BIMSTEC is a group of seven South Asian and Southeast Asian countries which depend on the Bay of Bengal for trade and connectivity.

India has been attempting to foster closer political and economic ties with neighboring countries amid China’s increasing influence in the Indian Ocean region. Last year, Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar remarked that New Delhi should try to do better than Beijing in engaging with nations in the neighborhood.

Modi on Saturday also noted that the youth of both countries will benefit from their cooperation in the new areas. Meanwhile, Hasina has invited her Indian counterpart to Bangladesh “to further strengthen the friendly relations of [the] two countries.”

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Randhir Jaiswal noted that Hasina’s visit would provide a “major boost” to bilateral cooperation. In recent years, India, which played a key role in Bangladesh’s struggle to gain independence from Pakistan in 1971, has maintained robust ties with its eastern neighbor.

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Last year in November, Modi and Hasina jointly launched three key infrastructure projects, including two railway initiatives to boost trade and connectivity. Earlier in the year, Dhaka officials gave India permanent access to the crucial Bangladeshi ports of Chattogram and Mongla in order to enhance trade.

Indian companies are also engaged in the construction of Bangladesh’s first nuclear power plant, which is being conducted by Russia’s Rosatom. The first of two units at the 2,400 MW Rooppur NPP is expected to be operational next year, providing much-needed energy to the emerging regional economic power.

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