India assures Bangladesh to lift ban on export of onions


India has assured Bangladesh that it would try to lift the ban on export of onions after Maharashtra assembly elections polling for which ended on October 21. Bangladesh Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said in Guwahati on Tuesday that he had spoken to Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal on the issue “and he assured me that India will try to lift the ban after Maharashtra assembly elections are over. We are waiting for that."

Addressing the India-Bangladesh Stakeholders' Meet in Guwahati, Tipu urged the Indian government to take a humanitarian look into the issue as people in Bangladesh are impacted due to high prices of the produce and sought lifting of India’s export ban at the earliest. "We are short of six lakh tonnes of onion. Out of this, 80 per cent comes from India. After the ban on onion export from India, prices have gone up drastically and people are asking when it will come down," he added.

Polling in Maharashtra, the largest producer of onion in India and having Asia’s largest wholesale market at Lasalgaon, ended on October 21. The result of the election will be announced today. Tipu said Bangladesh hoped “India will inform us well ahead of time while taking such measures so that we may take necessary preparation in procuring the kitchen staple from other alternative sources at competitive prices.”

In September-end, India imposed the ban on exports of onion to increase availability of the commodity in the domestic market and contain its spiralling prices. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had, while addressing India-Bangladesh Business Forum meet in New Delhi on October 4, expressed difficulties faced by her country post export ban by saying in a lighter vein that she told her cook not to use onion in food.

The Bangladesh Commerce Minister said most of the neighbouring countries in South Asia depend on India for food security and import essential commodities from here. "We understand that Indian authorities are well aware of this and always analyze this from a humanitarian perspective. We are eagerly waiting for the withdrawal of the export ban on onion,” Tipu said.

On the business between the two countries, he said India is the second largest trading partner of Bangladesh, next to China, and bilateral trade between them has registered an impressive growth in recent years. Over the last 10 years, the total trade between the two countries increased from USD 5.08 billion in 2010-11 to USD 8.9 billion in 2018-19, according to him. Bangladesh's export to India, however, is only USD 1.25 billion, he added.

Tipu said Bangladesh is yet to fully utilize the duty-free market access for most of the products under South Asian Free Trade Area and it needs to expeditiously resolve the non-tariff barriers such as testing of product quality, presence of para tariff, post restriction and application of trade remedial measures among others.

"We strongly believe that proactive actions will help expand our bilateral trade with India, particularly with the North East India. The regulatory barriers are now the serious concerns for all of us,” Tipu said adding "despite high level political commitment, we are far behind in removing regulatory barriers."

He said that in many cases, the barriers se are growing over time with unpredictable and non-transparent regulatory barriers being the major hindrance of trade facilitation in the regions. "I believe that this stakeholders meeting will expeditiously look into these issues and provide pragmatic solutions so that these could be immediately implemented for a win-win benefit," he said.

The Bangladesh Minister also said the absence of seamless connectivity between his country and India along with other countries in South Asia remains one of the key barriers for increasing trade. "Though a number of projects have been initiated under the template of South Asia Sub-Regional Economic Cooperation to construct roads and upgrade facilities and a number of agreements have been signed, we are yet to reap full benefits of these initiatives," he added.

Tipu said Bangladesh and North East India can benefit from improved physical connectivity and people-to-people contact. "Hence it is important to invest in upgrading and expanding road and rail network with North East India. “Recently we signed the Standard Operating Procedure on use of Chittagong and Mongla ports and this may be considered as a significant step for ensuring multi-modal connectivity with North East India. Better connectivity will enhance consumers' welfare through access to goods at a competitive price, enhance profit of the firms through access to cheaper inputs and enhance opportunities of the exporter of finished goods to a new market,” he added. Tipu said South Asian countries, including Bangladesh and India, are experiencing accelerated economic growth.

Under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh is moving ahead. We have achieved 8.13 GDP growth in this year, he said. The government has been implementing a pro-business and pro-investment policy to spur industrialization of the country, he added.

Bangladesh government is in the process of establishing 100 Special Economic Zones and a good number of hi-tech parks in the coming years, the minister said.