Bangladesh wants to finalise the comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) with India within the next one year, said Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi.
In an exclusive interview with the Press Trust of India, the minister on Thursday said that Bangladesh is in the advanced stage of talks with the Tata Group and Ashok Leyland for automotive investment in the country.
He also said that Bangladesh is interested in a BIMSTEC free trade pact, which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently talked about.
"We want to wrap up the CEPA with India, which is our second-largest trade partner, as well as other countries such as Sri Lanka and Indonesia within the next one year," Munshi said.
A study on the trade agreement will be completed by May and it will work as the position paper for final negotiations, he added.
"Sheikh Hasina wants us to gear up and finalise these trade deals before 2026," he said.
Bangladesh will soon graduate to the status of a developing nation as per the UN, and will not be eligible for many trade benefits it currently enjoys as a LDC (least developed countries) nation.
"We are talking very seriously about finalising this agreement with our Indian counterparts. We have found them very positive. Obviously, there is much at stake for both sides.
"We are the second largest exporter of ready-made garments in the world and India is a very large market. We are also exporting many other products to India, including ships. With 170 million people we too are a large market with increasing consumer power," Munshi said.
In the last financial year, Bangladesh imported goods worth $9.7 billion from India, and exported goods worth over $1.4 billion to India.
However, studies have shown that trade can be ratcheted up to $25 billion with a free trade deal, which will help both countries in expanding exports -- but Bangladesh is increasing its exports at a faster pace.
"We are in advanced talks with the Tata Group, who already have plants in Bangladesh, for a large automotive investment, as also with Ashok Leyland," the minister said.
He said Domino's India has set up 25 outlets in Dhaka and plans to increase the number more than ten-fold, besides setting up a large mother factory.
"We are looking for Indian investment, especially from West Bengal -- a state with which we have a lot in common," said the minister.
He pointed out that a large number of Bangladeshi firms are keen to invest in India too.
"However, we understand that there are some restrictions on investments from neighbouring countries. Clearances are being given on a case-to-case basis," the 71-year-old minister said.
"I know that our Walton Group is keen to invest there for instance," he added.
Walton Group of Bangladesh manufactures consumer durables, computers and telecom equipment, among others, and has revenue of nearly a billion dollars.