Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has expressed her interest in becoming a part of the New Development Bank (NDB) in response to Indian premier Narendra Modi's invitation to join the five-nation BRICS initiative.
In the virtual summit between the two leaders held on Thursday, she sought India's support for Bangladesh to join a road belt with India, Myanmar and Thailand – a trilateral highway – for a more effective regional connectivity.
On the other hand, the Indian side sought connectivity between its two states – West Bengal and Meghalaya – via Bangladesh.
Restoring the Chilahati-Haldibari rail route snapped 55 years ago, the two top leaders have committed to further integrate the existing bilateral connectivity and cooperation between the two neighbouring countries.
The issue of water sharing of Teesta and other rivers came in talks, but both leaders decided to discuss it in the next joint river commission (JRC) meeting.
Regarding the Rohingya issue, India reaffirmed its pledge to support sustainable repatriation of Rohingyas to their motherland.
During the summit, seven bilateral instruments were signed for cooperation in different sectors.
Before the talks began, the two leaders jointly inaugurated the restored Chilahati–Haldibari rail route, the fifth one between the two countries, relinking Bangladesh with the northern part of West Bengal in India.
Recognising the immense potential of bilateral economic and commercial ties, both the prime ministers directed their respective officials to expeditiously conclude the ongoing joint study on the prospects of entering into a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.
After the summit, Foreign minister Dr AK Abdul Momen and Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram Doraiswami separately briefed the media. Later, both the countries published a joint statement.
Modi reaffirmed Sheikh Hasina that India always prioritises Bangladesh in terms of diplomatic relations, saying, "Bangladesh is a key pillar of our neighbourhood first policy", Vikram Doraiswami said.
Invitation to join BRICS
Narendra Modi has invited Bangladesh to join the New Development Bank (NDB), established by BRICS states, a multilateral institution which mobilises resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in emerging economies. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has also responded positively.
The NDB is an International organisation jointly founded by the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
When contacted, Dr Zahid Hussain, former lead economist of the World Bank's Dhaka office, "If we become a member of the bank, there will be a new scope to source funds. But it will depend on what type of financing they are doing."
Seven documents signed
Earlier before the summit, the foreign ministry of Bangladesh hinted that they were expecting to sign nine bilateral instruments. But, seven documents were inked to enhance cooperation in different sectors.
The documents signed are the Framework of Understanding on Cooperation in Hydrocarbon Sector; Framework Agreement on High Impact Community Development Projects; Protocol on Trans-boundary elephant conservation; a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Supply of Equipment and Improvement of Garbage/Solid Waste Disposal Ground for Barishal City Corporation; MoU on Cooperation in the Field of Agriculture; and an MoU between the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum, Dhaka and the National Museum in New Delhi.
The terms of Reference of India-Bangladesh CEO Forum was also inked during the summit.
Teesta, border issues also discussed
Both the leaders discussed border management and water sharing issues of common rivers.
Sheikh Hasina highlighted the need for early signing of an interim agreement for sharing of the Teesta waters, as agreed upon by both the governments in 2011. Narendra Modi reiterated India's sincere commitment and continued efforts of the government of India in that regard.
Regarding border management, Indian High commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram Doraiswami said both leaders emphasised the need for coordinated and joint patrols to create a crime-free border.
For its part, India's BSF will continue to exercise maximum restraint and follow a strict protocol of escalation of actions, with the commitment that the use of lethal force would only be in the last resort, in self-defence.
Regarding the water sharing issue, AK Abdul Momen said, "The issues also frustrated us as we are Bangladeshis. But there is much advancement to resolve these and we are really hopeful."
Connectivity for prosperity
Both the countries expressed satisfaction at continued progress made towards the restoration of pre-1965 railway linkages between both the nations.
They discussed the trial run of trans-shipment of Indian goods from Kolkata to Agartala via Chattogram and operationalisation of Sonamura-Daudkandi protocol route.
Both leaders agreed to an early operationalisation of the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement between Bangladesh, India and Nepal to commence the movement of goods and passengers, with provision for Bhutan to join at a later date.
Bangladesh expressed keen interest in the ongoing India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway project and sought support of India for enabling Bangladesh to connect with this project with a view to enhancing connectivity between the regions of South and Southeast Asia.
On the other hand, the Indian side requested Bangladesh to allow connectivity from West Bengal (Hilli) to Meghalaya (Mahendraganj) via Bangladesh.
Both the leaders also discussed projects under India Line of Credit (LoC) and stressed an active operationalisation of the recently-constituted High Level Monitoring Committee for their early completion.
Repatriation of Rohingyas
Appreciating the generosity of Bangladesh in hosting a large number of displaced persons from Rakhine State in Myanmar, Modi reiterated the need for safe, speedy and sustainable repatriation of displaced persons to their homes.
Congratulating India on its election as a member of the United Nations Security Council, Sheikh Hasina expressed Bangladesh's expectation to see India assist in the repatriation of Rohingyas back to Myanmar.
"We support the UN's initiative to repatriate Rohingyas to Myanmar but we do not have any active role in this regard. However, we want a sustainable repatriation," the Indian high commissioner.
To boost Bangladeshi exports to India and to increase overall trade, bearing in mind Bangladesh's graduation out of the least developed country status, a Study on Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) has been commissioned.
This CEPA will provide the framework for a free trade arrangement on goods and services, and mutual facilitation on investment, and also help increase market share for Bangladesh in India, while expanding the overall trade.
Both sides agreed that rail links have proven to be efficient, environmentally-less impactful and reliable during lockdowns caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Momen said India suddenly stops the import of some products and commodities like onion that creates instability of prices in the local market.
So, Prime minister Sheikh Hasina raised the issue.
Sheikh Hasina urged the Indian prime minister to make a transparent and predictable policy so that Bangladesh can find out an alternative way.
She also raised the issue of non-tariff barriers and the issue of exporting surplus power to India and other neighbouring countries.
Cooperation in health sector
Narendra Modi assured that vaccines would be made available to Bangladesh when produced in India. Both leaders also noted the ongoing bilateral collaboration between the private sectors in this area.
For the last few months, India has been sharing knowledge and experience with Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Mauritius about how to tackle Covid-19 in a most effective way, Vikram Doraiswami said.
"We are also discussing strategies regarding effective use of vaccines and cold chain maintenance," the India high commissioner also said.
"If Indian drug makers are interested in collaborating vaccine production in Bangladesh, we are ready to extend our support," he added.
What two leaders said
In her inaugural speech Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina suggested further integrating economies of Bangladesh and India to consolidate the global and regional value chains, cashing in on the available synergies.
Narendra Modi said Bangladesh continues to be one of the significant pillars of India's "Neighbourhood First" policy.
Modi said his government concentrated on keeping strong relations with Bangladesh since his government came into power.