India all set to remove agro-import restrictions on Bhutan
This significant decision will impact Bhutan in a big way and is being considered to be a special gesture to the neighbouring country by the prime minister of India prior to his visit to Bhutan which is due from 15-16 June. It was because of restriction on free movement on agricultural products that Bhutan has been facing serious problems for a long time.
According to top-level sources, the government is contemplating extending this free movement of Indian agricultural goods not only to Bhutan but to all other South Asian countries which includes Pakistan as well. This is one of the major policy decisions for the entire South Asian region and Modi is giving final touches to it.
Incidentally, the European countries have imposed embargo on mangoes which were being sent from India recently. Similarly, Japan has developed serious reservations about Indian rice.
According to sources, Modi is working on a grand plan that focuses on 'integration of markets' of all South Asian counties. This will result in a huge boost to the economy of all regional countries. The significant portion of this decision is that for the very first time, India will open up and extend this facility to Pakistan also. This is a part of Modi's confidence-building measures with neighbouring countries. The PMO is also working on another revolutionary idea of granting visa-on-arrival facility to all South Asian neighbouring countries. On the issue of agricultural imports from India, the PMO is working closely with the ministry of external affairs and also the commerce ministry.
Meanwhile, foreign secretary Sujatha Singh on Friday emphasised Modi's visit to Bhutan 'reflects high priority that India attaches to its relations with the country and to good neighbourly relations in our South Asian neighbourhood'. Modi will be paying a goodwill visit to Bhutan on 15-16 June 2014 at the invitation of His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the King of Bhutan, His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo and prime minister Tshering Tobgay. He will be accompanied by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, national security adviser Ajit Doval and Singh.
Singh said, 'Discussions during the visit will include the entire gamut of bilateral relations. We are privileged to be partnering Bhutan in its economic development. Our assistance package comprises Rs 4500 crores for Bhutan’s 11th Five Year Plan from 2013-18 and covers areas from infrastructure and information and communication technology to health, agriculture, human resource development and tourism. We also assist Bhutan in implementing smaller local projects such as schools, libraries, hostel facilities for students, veterinary hospitals, irrigation channels, drinking water schemes and community centres.'
'Our hydropower cooperation with Bhutan is a classic example of win-win cooperation. The hydropower projects generate export revenues for Bhutan, cement our economic partnership and provide clean and low-cost electricity to India. Our bilateral trade amounted to Rs 6830 Cr in 2012. India has also invested in 16 projects in Bhutan, in areas such a hydropower, cement and IT. A free trade regime is in place between India and Bhutan. Further measures to boost trade will also be discussed,' added Rao.