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`Multi-modal transport vital to boost Indo-Bangla trade'

G. Srinivasan

Reliance only on road link wont suffice, says Jairam Ramesh


Opening up border
Infrastructure should be built in the existing border States to open up trade in more sectors.
Nathula Pass infrastructure
must be created in order to promote not only trade from Sikkim but also from North Bengal through Nathula Pass into Tibet.


THROUGH MULTI-MODAL TRANSPORT: The Minister of State for Commerce & Industry, Mr Jairam Ramesh, meeting Bangladesh Rifles personnel visiting the Petrapole Land Customs office on Monday. He stressed that multi-modal transport held the key for increased Indo-Bangla trade. - Sushanta Patronobish

Petrapole, Indo-Bangladesh border, June 19

The expanding trade volume between India and Bangladesh should be complemented by rail, sea and inland waterways and should no longer be dependent only on the overstretched road link from here, the Minister of State for Commerce, Mr Jairam Ramesh, said here. Mr Ramesh told Business Line, on his way back from this border area, that with SAFTA (SAARC Free Trade Area) providing a big stimulus to expanding trade relations, the simple reliance on road link for commerce would not suffice.

The Minister said last year India exported $1.5 billion worth of its goods to Dhaka and imported from the latter $160 million. He said that India's import from Bangladesh doubled last year and is set to move anywhere from $260 million to $280 million in the near future. Hence, over-reliance on Petrapole is not good and "we must develop rail-based traffic, sea route and riverine passage and in short a multi-modal transportation". He added that connectivity is poor, while infrastructure is pathetic in this border area.

The Minister said that he proposes to visit all the border area States in the North-East covering Manipur (for Myanmar) and Raxal (for Nepal). He said that efforts should be made to build up infrastructure in the existing border States but also open up the border for more sectors to trade. He added that Arunachal Pradesh wants more sectors to be opened up and Nagaland wants some sector to be opened up with Myanmar. He said that whereas West Bengal has 8 centres with Petrapole as the main gateway for trade with Bangladesh, "we have only one centre with Myanmar".

Mr Ramesh said that is why infrastructure in Nathula Pass be created in order to promote not only trade from Sikkim but also from North Bengal through Nathula Pass into Tibet. He said that there are 23 export promotion councils in the country and there is no special council for promotion of North-East exports. He added that out of Rs 1,000 crore export from this region, 60 per cent is tea and 16 per cent coal. That is why, he said, a special drive would be made by his department in association with Nabard, North Eastern Development Financial Institutions and Development Commissioner (Handicrafts) to provide Rs 15-16 crore for creating infrastructure for promotion of bamboo and cane-based furniture.

"We are getting the Export Promotion Council of Handicrafts to be the implementing agency and we hope in the next 3 to 4 years we could add Rs 200-300 crore worth of handicraft products for export from the North-East."

Horticulture products

The Minister said simultaneously efforts would be made with the help of the National Horticulture Mission to promote development of horticulture products, create cold storage. The Agricultural Product Export Development Authority (APEDA) has taken a major plan for establishing cold storage facilities in major cargo complexes in Guwahati, Aizwal and Imphal. APEDA has programme to promote organic cultivation of chillies, pepper, turmeric and ginger from this region to make use of the potentials of these products for marketing abroad.

Stating that the extant air freight transport subsidy for the North-East region covers only Kolkata, he said that "we will soon extend this to Mumbai and Delhi airports too". He said that air freight subsidy is provided on the basis of a list of approved products for each State and "we are abolishing this system and all horticulture products will be entitled to this air freight subsidy".

Tea Board team to Pak

Mr. Ramesh said in response to a query that the Tea Board delegation is going to Pakistan in the middle of next month to promote marketing of Indian tea in Pakistan, which is the second largest importer of tea. He said the disbursement under the Special Purpose Tea Fund (Rs 4,700 crore spread over 15 years) for rejuvenation and replantation would begin in November. The Minister said that he would be visiting Jorhat Assam on June 25 to meet the representatives of Tea Research Institutions and Tea Planters' Association, which is comprised of the native Assamese.

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