ROAD, RAIL, WATERWAYS TO LINK ENTIRE SOUTH ASIA
Rejaul Karim Byron
6 MoUs likely during 18th Saarc Summit….
To boost economic activities in the region, the Saarc nations are likely to sign six Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) on rail, road, water and air connectivity among the member states.
The MoUs are expected to be signed during the 18th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) scheduled for November 26-27 in Nepal.
The cabinet has already approved three draft MoUs on road, railways and energy security while the rest three on waterways, civil aviation and tourism are likely to get the government nod in the next cabinet meeting.
Under the Regional Railways Agreement, thirteen routes connecting seven countries have been identified. The Maldives, an island nation, has been kept out of this link. Seven of the routes involve Bangladesh.
However, routes for road connectivity are yet to be finalised.
Cabinet Secretary Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan told The Daily Star that in the Kathmandu Summit, the heads of government and of state will sign the MoUs in the form of frameworks.
Duty, fees and commissions for transportation among the Saarc countries have not yet been fixed either. Separate negotiations have to be held for this later, he said.
The draft MoUs will be approved in the Saarc ministerial meeting first and then will be signed in the Summit, Musharraf said, adding that if any of the countries do not agree to the terms of a memorandum, it won’t be signed.
The immediate challenge, he said, is to get consent of all the member states and the next is to properly follow up and implement the framework agreements.
Increased connectivity will facilitate investment and trade activities, and ensure overall economic development in the region, the cabinet secretary hoped.
The Saarc Regional Railways Agreement will enable transportation of passengers and goods through railways across the region on certain terms and conditions.
According to the draft, the countries will have to take measures for maintaining trains and servicing locomotives at interchange points, providing immigration and visa facilities, and ensuring security for passenger and cargo transportation.
The draft also states any signatory country may withdraw itself.
If the agreement is signed, Bangladesh Railway may turn into a commercially profitable organisation by carrying cargo on the long routes, it says.
Once signed, the Saarc Motor Vehicle Agreement will allow movement of cargo, passenger and personal vehicles from any Saarc country inside the signatory countries.
Only authorised operators will be allowed to carry passengers and cargo, and permits for this will have to be taken from proper authorities of the countries concerned, the draft states.
The member countries will decide on traffic volume through mutual negotiations, and all sorts of fees and charges will be levied at the entry points.
The country, through which the vehicles will move, will fix the rate of fees and all the fees and charges will have to be paid in the currency of that country.
The authorised officers of the country can inspect and search the transiting vehicles, according to the draft of the agreement.
The member countries may not allow the movement of prohibited or restricted goods through its territory.
The agreement will be reviewed every three years and can be amended or ratified then.
The Saarc countries may trade cross-border electricity voluntarily under the Saarc Framework Agreement for Energy Cooperation (Electricity).
The relevant firms of the countries will set the conditions for trade in energy through bargaining.
As per the draft agreement, the cross-border electricity trading will enjoy tax waiver.
The transmission planning agencies of the member countries will help to set up the Cross Border Grid Interconnection in their respective areas, and to Build, Own and Maintain (BOM) the Cross Border System.
The member countries will jointly set up the Electricity Grid Protection System and the System Operation and Settlement Mechanism for cross-border electricity trade.
If any dispute arises among the Saarc countries, they will settle it through talks. If talks fail, the issue will be sent to the Saarc arbitration council.
Any member country can withdraw itself from the agreement on six months’ notice.
NOVEMBER 20, 2014