Two joint working groups on trade and shipping were launched yesterday to tap the potentials of enhanced trade and connectivity between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
The joint working group on trade is expected to start work within two months.
This was agreed when the Bangladesh Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque and Sri Lankan Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs Karunatilaka Amunugama met on Monday at Colombo at the second Foreign Office Consultation, UNB reported quoting a foreign ministry message received here yesterday.
The two foreign secretaries reviewed the entire gamut of bilateral relations, and took stock of the progress made in implementing decisions made during the visit of President Rajapaksa to Bangladesh in 2011 and at the 4th Joint Economic Commission in 2012.
Both sides agreed to reduce tariffs at a faster rate, remove non-tariff barriers and para-tariff measures, and rationalise sensitive lists under multilateral frameworks like South Asian Free Trade Area (Safta).
Safta is an agreement of SAARC states signed on January 6, 2004 in Pakistan’s Islamabad. Under the agreement, a free trade area, comprising of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka was made. The seven foreign ministers signed a framework agreement to reduce customs duties of all traded goods to zero by the year 2016.
The Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan foreign secretaries also agreed to launch discussions on a trade framework, beginning with a short-list of economically meaningful items for greater preferential market access, which could be expanded within an agreed time to form the basis for a possible FTA.
Both sides agreed to accord greater emphasis on enhanced maritime connectivity between Bangladesh and Sri Lankan ports.
A Sri Lankan delegation will visit Bangladesh soon to discuss all the related issues, including the enhancement of cargo, incentives and discounts of port charges, the possibility of coastal shipping, and other preferential treatments.
Given the interest of Sri Lanka to import medicines, the two foreign secretaries agreed to facilitate early conclusion of an arrangement on supply of emergency medicines under a government-to-government arrangement.
They also agreed to explore government-to-business collaboration in pharmaceuticals. Sri Lanka would welcome a pharmaceutical sector delegation from Bangladesh to Sri Lanka soon to discuss all the issues to facilitate trade and investment in this sector.
The two Foreign Secretaries also considered ways and means to enhance collaboration in the areas of culture, vocational training, and agriculture. They also discussed the possibility of higher-level bilateral visits in the future.
Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque is scheduled to pay courtesy calls on President Mahinda Rajapaksa Tuesday.