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`Railway links key to trade with Bhutan'

Our Bureau

Kolkata , March 6

Citing the large potential for expanding trade relations with India, especially sub-regional co-operation with the north-eastern States, Mr Lyonpo Dago Tshering, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Bhutan in India, said there was an urgent need to strengthen the railway links with India in a big way.

The economy of the tiny Himalayan Kingdom, powered by a GDP growth of 8.5 per cent, rests mainly on the construction industry, agriculture and transport business, besides tourism. The envoy, however, said his government's development strategy was built not so much around GDP, but actually on GNH (Gross National Happiness).

At an interactive session organised by the Bengal National Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BNCCI), Mr Tshering said Rites (Rail India Technical and Economic Services), which is carrying out a study on these rail linkages, is expected to submit the feasibility report by the year-end, or in early 2007.

Transit points

According to him, effective rail links is the key to higher volume of trade between the two South Asian neighbours. Of the four transit points identified, two will be in Assam (in Kokrajar) and two in North Bengal, facilitating an entry from Jalpaiguri via Hasimara to Phuntshiling in Bhutan. Stressing on joint ventures between the two countries on the trade front, Mr Tshering said the India-Bhutan trade agreement signed in 1996 was due for renewal.

He said 2000 MW would be exported by September this year to India, with North Bengal expected to be the main beneficiary. Three more hydel projects are coming up in Bhutan, under which some 5,000 MW would be exported to India by 2012. Wapcos is preparing the detailed project report.

According to Ms Nayantara Palchoudhuri, President of BNCCI, besides electricity, calcium carbide, gypsum, ferro-silicon, particle board and portland cement were the main imports from Bhutan. India's main exports include mineral products, machinery and mechanical appliances, base metal and products, vegetable oil, plastic and rubber products, textiles and wood and wood products.

Bilateral trade between the two countries has been on the upswing in recent years, with two-way trade valued at Rs 700 crore during 2004-05.

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