India, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal on Monday signed a far-reaching agreement here that will enhance regional connectivity by facilitating seamless movement of people, goods and vehicles among the four nations, with the first phase set to begin in October.
The transport ministers of the four countries inked the Motor Vehicles Agreement for the Regulation of Passenger, Personal and Cargo Vehicular Traffic between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN MVA).
India was represented at the meeting by Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari.
"This (BBIN MVA) would enable the exchange of traffic rights and ease cross-border movement of goods, vehicles, and people, thereby helping expand people-to-people contact, trade, and economic exchanges between our countries," a joint ministerial statement later said.
According to the statement, all the four countries will endeavour to carry out a six-month work-plan from July to December 2015 for the implementation of BBIN MVA. The staged implementation of the project is slated from October 2015.
During the meeting, Gadkari, who also hold charge of the shipping ministry, said: "We understand our advantage of linking with all our neighbours. Simultaneously, we recognise our additional responsibility to accommodate our neighbours’ concerns."
"We are and will remain flexible enough to address various challenges faced by our neighbouring countries and are always ready to support their initiatives to bridge various deficits."
Under the work-plan for project implementation, the formalisation of the BBIN MVA is expected to be completed by August. The installation of project pre-requisites like IT, infrastructure, tracking and regulatory systems are scheduled by December 2015.
The joint statement called BBIN MVA a complementary instrument to existing transport agreements at the bilateral levels between the four countries. This, it said, will continue to be honoured by the contracting parties.
The statement further said that the protocol is also a result of strong determination expressed by the leaders of the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) at their 18th summit in Kathmandu in November last year to deepen regional integration.
The leaders also noted with concern the poor merchandise trade under the free trade pact, which amounted to a mere $3 billion since July 2006.
"We further recall their renewed commitment to substantially enhance regional connectivity in a seamless manner through building and upgrading roads, railways, waterways infrastructure, energy grids, communications and air links,” the joint statement added.
The joint statement’s reference to the SAARC MVA assumes significance as the stalled agreement prompted the 18th summit to encourage member states to initiate regional and sub-regional steps to enhance connectivity. The BBIN MVA is the culmination of that development.
Gadkari announced in the meeting that a major breakthrough has also been achieved between India-Myanmar and Thailand and that the three nations have agreed to develop a similar framework agreement on the lines of the draft SAARC MVA.
"Secretary-level discussions were successfully concluded in Bengaluru this month and consensus has been reached on the text of agreement," the minister said.
"On conclusion of this agreement, our sub-region will get access to the larger ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) market through seamless passenger and cargo movement."