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Lessons From Bhutan

May 2, 2017

Small dragon kingdom Bhutan has deferred the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal  Motor Vehicle Agreement( BBIN MVA).  The BBIN MVA requires that vehicles of member countries move without any obstacle on the roads of other countries.

The agreement deemed useful for bolstering trade for landlocked countries like Nepal. However, Bhutanese law-makers and  businessmen strongly oppose the idea as Bhutanese motor vehicles  face unlawful  levies and other obstacles while plying  on member countries’ roads. The agreement in question does not lay out clauses that address these issues.  Moreover, the MVA could destabilize the traffic system of Bhutan with the influx of vehicles coming from neighboring countries. For this reason the Bhutanese authority even demanded that MVA fix number of vehicle enter the dragon kingdom.  The MVA could also have serious environmental ramifications, as pointed out in the report of parliamentary panel.

Tshering Togbay’s People’s Democratic Party however assured the BBIN members that  after the 2018 general election  it will  revive the MVA and exhorted others to go ahead with the deal without Bhutan for the moment.

As Bhutan put aside the MVA, the prospect of BIBN MVA got stuck into the potholes of the road of regional connectivity. Now renewed efforts of the  member countries will be needed to patch the agreement.

Several factors came into play behind shaping the decision of Tshering  Tobgay’s govt:

First, job security of the Bhutanese people.

Second, dragon kingdom’s environmental safety.

Third, internal security of a small country that is sparsely populated.

Being a nascent democracy, Bhutan set an example to its bigger neighbours. Bangladesh could learn a lot from Bhutan. For the sake of national interest, Bhutan did not hesitate to roll back its decision taken in 2015 BBIN summit.

Bhutanese parliament also did not like the idea that govt could insert convenient clauses into MVA once it got its approval.

Two bigger economies of BBIN are marked by the presence of huge unofficial trade of goods. Obviously when the BBIN MVA will come into being, stakeholders of this unofficial trade will tap the full potentials of it. It is still unclear how far this MVA will bring the unofficial trade into the mainstream and how it will accelerate regional trade.

This clandestine trade remains a major source of income for the the political parties in this region. Recent rise in incidence of smuggling is an indication. As govts in this part of the world failed to rein in organized criminal groups and to curb corruption, it is unclear how they will ensure that these groups will not use the connectivity infrastructures for their gain.

Primarily the focus is on the cargo-trailers. But personal cars can also take advantage of it. In that case monitoring and regulating the movement of vehicles will become a cumbersome affairs.  With the security lapses, smuggling, drug trafficking , money laundering etc will become much more easier than before.

Since there is a lack of political goodwill to try the criminals of other countries, unwanted groups or criminals may use this regional  road network to flee abroad.  In this circumstances, this MVA may further deteriorate the law and order situation.

It is also not known how this regional road network will operate when regional tensions will reach the boiling point.

Clearly, people’s verdict and careful weighing the costs against the benefits are needed to push forward with MVA in Bangladesh. Like Bhutan, Bangladesh should leave the matter to the next elected parliament  and wait for the final say of the people’s representatives.

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From → Analysis

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