Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit Bangladesh, his first visit abroad in more than a year largely because of the covid-19 pandemic, on 26-27 March. The two countries may take a step towards launching talks on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) during the visit, which is primarily to take part in the celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence and 50 years of Bangladesh-India diplomatic relations.
Ties between the two countries have been on an upswing since 2015 when the two countries concluded their land boundary agreement that had been pending for decades. It had facilitated the transfer of 111 enclaves, adding up to 17,160.63 acres, from India to Bangladesh with India receiving 51 enclaves, totalling 7,110.02 acres.
Indian foreign minister S. Jaishankar is expected to visit Dhaka to pave the way for Modi’s visit, which comes just months after the two prime ministers held a virtual summit in December during which they had “directed the officials to expeditiously conclude the ongoing joint study on the prospects of entering into a bilateral CEPA.” The results of the study were to be put up to the two governments soon, said a person familiar with the matter.
Should the CEPA talks be launched during Modi’s visit, it will signal a step up in ties, according to Biswajit Dhar, a professor of international trade relations at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“It is very important for ties given that India has said that it was relooking at trade agreements with all countries. This would not be just an economic agreement. It will also be strategic in nature, defining ties in the larger context,” he said.
With India’s strategic rival China making inroads into India’s periphery, “it makes sense for India to extend a hand of friendship to close partner Bangladesh,” he said. Bangladesh would be graduating from the category of Least Development Country (LDC) to Low Middle Income Country soon and would hence be losing the privileges extended to LDCs. “A CEPA would cover trade, investments, and competition. So this would be a better deal,” Dhar said.