'B'desh to soon decide stance on fees for transit facility'

'B'desh to soon decide stance on fees for transit facility'

"I can tell you this much now that we are yet to take a final stand on the fees for transit but soon I will be able to announce our decision in this regard (and) it will be made protecting the best interests of the country," Commerce Minister Faruque Khan told PTI.

He, however, said the government was currently reviewing a Tariff Commission recommendation as his ministry last week received the proposals, which he declined to disclose. But a newspaper today published a report saying the commission suggested equal transit fees for all countries and proposed amounts ranging between USD 4 and 50 per tonne of goods as transit fees depending on routes chosen by the user.

A special committee on transit led by the Tariff Commission Chairman Mujibur Rahman prepared the report making recommendations on transit route, charge, traffic volume, investment and benefit.

"We have submitted the report online and recommended the imposition of charge in line with World Trade Organisation rules," Rahman told The Star but did not elaborate.

The paper, quoting officials familiar with the commission recommendations, said the report acknowledged that under the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and Bangladesh's 1969 Customs Act the country cannot impose customs duties or tax on transit traffic.

"But there are no restrictions on imposing transit charge on the movement of transit traffic in order to recover various types of costs related to administrative expenses such as costs of customs formalities, customs inspection and charge for use of services," it said.

The report said Bangladesh might negotiate with the countries, which could use transit facility, about the percentage of savings it could receive from them. It also suggested amendment to the Customs Management of Transit and Transshipment Goods Rules, 2010, so that the "transit/transshipment fee" mentioned in the rules reflect all types of fees and charges that were combined together.

Indian High Commissioner Rajeet Mitter earlier this month expressed hope that Bangladesh would set a reasonable transit fee to achieve the desired outcome of the transit system.

"It depends on the proposal of Bangladesh government, who has formed a committee to settle the transit fee. India would certainly agree to pay the transit fee fixed by Bangladesh," Mitter told a business chamber function at the southeastern port city of Chittagong.

Mitter, however, said: "expensive transit fees might not bring the desired benefits". The debate on providing transit to India sparked a afresh two months ago when opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party appeared to have revived an old anti-transit campaign as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government is set to allow Indian transports to carry goods to its isolated northeastern states through the country.

"No foreign vehicle would be allowed to go through the country at the cost of the country's interests," Khaleda Ziya told a rally after finance minister AMA Muhith said Dhaka would charge India "transit fees" instead of "duties" in exchange of offering the transit facilities.

But Zia alleged "earlier, the government said dollars would surge into the country and Bangladesh would be turned into another Singapore if transit was allowed to India and now we are hearing that they (India) are not even willing to  pay the normal duties".

Prime Minister's economic affairs adviser Mashiur Rahman last month said Bangladesh could not impose any tariff or fee for providing transit as such a fee is conflicting with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules and principles.

"If we are 'uncivilised' and 'uneducated' then we could go for such fees," he said.
According to an Asian Development Bank study Bangladesh would earn an annual revenue of USD 1 billion after completing necessary infrastructure within five years and initially, annual income would be USD 50 million, as originated from transit fee.

Bangladesh last year signed a memorandum of understanding with India finalizing an earlier deal to allow Indian heavy equipment to be transshipped to its isolated northeastern Tripura state for the huge Palatana Power Plant in 96 consignments in five months to be completed in May 2012.

Transit through Bangladesh, for India in particular, remained to be a contentious issue as BNP and its rightwing allies were opposed to the facility for "security and economic concerns".

Zia's past government had declined to sign the trans-national UN-ESCAP sponsored deal calling the proposed routes "not suitable for the country" as they would eventually let Bangladesh to be used as a transport corridor to India while it opposed the recent decision of ruling Awami League government decision to join the network.

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