Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are giving a 'serious look' at a possible deal on coastal shipping to save both the transshipment cost and time boosting the competitiveness in the global market and bolstering trade ties between the two countries.
The issue came up broadly during the just-concluded three-day State visit of Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena who had official talks with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. "We want to sign a coastal shipping agreement with Sri Lanka similar to the one we have with India," a senior government official told UNB.
He said there is much interest from Bangladesh's business community to sign such a deal with Sri Lanka. "We've progressed a lot but the discussion is still on," the official said adding that such deal will help reduce time and cost in a bigger way in terms of transshipment between ports in Chittagong and Colombo.
A Foreign Ministry senior official said Sri Lankan President Sirisena and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina described shipping as 'one of the key areas with potential' for mutually beneficial cooperation. The two leaders, he said, emphasised that shipping cooperation should result in improved connectivity and open up further opportunities for bilateral trade between the two countries and beyond.
The Foreign Ministry official said Bangladesh and Sri Lankan leadership stressed completing the ongoing negotiations on the proposed agreement on Coastal Shipping as early as possible. During the visit, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, however, signed a Memorandum of Understanding involving Bangladesh Shipping Corporation and Ceylon Shipping Corporation.
State Minister for Foreign Affairs M Shahriar Alam said Bangladesh, in most cases, uses Singapore while dealing with its export-import activities and in some case Malaysia.
If the west-bound cargos that head for Europe and America transit in the east it takes additional time, he said. The State Minister said Sri Lanka is on the way to those destinations (Europe, America) and such coastal shipping agreement will help make Bangladesh's export business more competitive taking advantage of non-price element or reducing the 'lead-time'.
Commerce Ministry officials said Bangladesh and Sri Lanka want to see their two-way trade volume triple in the next two years exploring new investments and business opportunities.
The two-way trade volume is now roughly US$ 142 million and it will have a big boost with support from private sector players of the two countries, said a Commerce Ministry official. Private sector players have already started their interactions to discuss ways to have greater trade and investment cooperation between the two countries.
Both the countries think the bilateral trade relations will see a big boost with the signing of Free Trade Agreement (FTA) by this year.
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