Wierd economic signals from Bangladesh

Its equivocation is matched only by the rhetoric

India’s Economic Times is breathless with excitement when it reports that a major ‘breakthrough’ has occured and M Saifur Rahman, Bangladesh’s finance and planning minister, has cleared the way for a pipeline to bring natural gas from Myanmar to India, through a pipeline across Bangladesh. Rahman had apparently agreed to Bangladesh entering into negotiations with its two neighbours and get on with the business of building the pipeline in right earnest.

But one look at the Bangladeshi newspapers and the picture begins to get murky. Rahman is quoted as saying that it is not yet certain that Bangladesh would go in for a tri-partite model.

There are conflicting reports on Rahman’s stand on free-trade agreements too. Upon his arrival from India, he announced that instead of focusing on a bilateral free-trade agreement with India, Bangladesh would prefer to focus on SAFTA, a multilateral free-trade agreement under the SAARC umbrella. But not much later, addressing a economic conference in Dhaka he dismissed the entire business of free-trade agreements as a pointless exercise.

Referring to inter-trade agreements among Saarc countries, the finance minister ridiculed various trade negotiations which are going on in the name of FTA, Safta and BIMST-EC and termed those as ‘talk shops’ without generating any meaningful result.

“I urged the Indian leaders to allow all goods from Bangladesh instead of accepting a preference list for taking a lead in economic development in the region.” [Daily Star]

With statements and positions changing as fast as this, it is difficult to imagine how Bangladesh can evolve a cohesive economic development policy.

In any case, Mani Shankar Aiyar and the rest of India’s oil diplomats would be well advised to save the champagne for later.

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