THE Indian government’s decision to impose what it calls anti-dumping duty ranging from $6.30 to $351.72 a tonne on the import of Bangladeshi jute and jute products for the next five years appears to be a deliberate act to obstruct export to India. Moreover, the allegation, which enabled the Indian government to impose duty, that Bangladesh sells jute products at prices lower than those in India’s domestic market is not justified. It is important to note that Bangladeshi jute and jute goods enjoy zero-duty benefit on export to India under the South Asian Free Trade Area agreement. Although there are many non-tariff barriers to Bangladeshi exports to the Indian market, exports of jute and jute goods to India in the financial year 2015-16 grew by more than 150 per cent to $260.74 million from $104.51 million. All these have contributed to the recent efforts to revive the country’s jute sector providing livelihood to millions of jute growers and industrial workers. The Indian decision, already taken effect from January 5, will hit now the Bangladeshi sector hard.
Notably, once the main source of export earnings of the country, the jute sector was about to die in 1990s because of successive governments pursuing flawed policies influenced by different international lending agencies like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. When the lending agencies forced successive governments of Bangladesh in the period to close down state-owned jute mills including Adamjee Jute Mills, making thousands of workers unemployed and many more number of growers to stop cultivating jute, they also provided funds for the setting-up of some new jute mills in West Bengal. In this context, one has reasons to conclude that the anti-dumping duty decision may be intended to create fresh obstacles to the growth of Bangladeshi jute sector. In any case, the Indian decision at hand is a bane for friendly relations between the two countries, which have already been harmed by India’s self-seeking attitude to Bangladesh due to the former’s unwillingness to resolve different bilateral disputes such as those over the sharing of transboundary waters and regular border killing of Bangladeshi civilians by Indian security forces.
Under the circumstances, the government of Bangladesh immediately needs to engage in bilateral negotiation with its Indian counterpart on the jute issue. While negotiating with India, Bangladesh should keep in mind that it needs to do away with its India appeasement policy for the incumbents should realise by now that their appeasement has hardly delivered anything positive from India over the past years. Jute traders also need to be included in the negotiation process, while conscious sections of the society need to mount pressure on the government for this to happen.
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