Bhutan unable to ratify sub-regional transport accord

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Kathmandu/Thimphu, April 29 (IANS) Unable to ratify the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) motor vehicles agreement, Bhutan has asked the three other members to go ahead without it, leaving them in a fix, the media reported.

Bhutan has communicated its decision to the Nepali Embassy in Delhi, which is yet to be forwarded to the Foreign Ministry, the Kathmandu Post reported.

With Bhutan deciding to leave the sub-regional cooperation, the remaining three stakeholders should take a decision on ways to implement the proposal, a senior Foreign Ministry official said, adding that no discussion has been held so far. “The three remaining members would take a decision on implementation without Bhutan,” said the official “For this, India should take a lead,” the Post said.

The four South Asian nations signed the BBIN agreement in the Bhutanese capital Thimphu last June, in what was seen as a first model of sub-regional cooperation. The agreement would allow for passenger, personal and cargo vehicular traffic among the four countries.

However, there have been reservations among some sections within Bhutan about the viability of this agreement given that it was a small country.

Bhutan will join the group once Parliament ratifies the agreement, Bhutanese news portal Kuensel reported.

The government views BBIN as a platform, encompassing key areas such as energy, trade, information, communication and technology. “Strengthening regional cooperation is especially significant for a landlocked country like Bhutan, and therefore, the Bhutan government remains fully committed to the BBIN process including the BBIN motor vehicle agreement,” the Bhutanese Foreign Ministry stated.

While the other three countries have already ratified the agreement, Bhutan is in the process of completing its internal procedures for ratification. The government is also making efforts to address the concerns raised by various stakeholders.

The agreement is slated for deliberation in the upcoming session of Parliament as a disputed bill. The government is expected to withdraw the bill as the opposition and the National Council have said they would not support the agreement, Kuensel said.

The opposition and the Council are of the view that the agreement, which will streamline movement of passenger and cargo transport among the four countries, will overwhelm the smallest country in the group. The government maintains that Bhutan would lose economic opportunities if Parliament does not ratify the agreement.

The BBIN was first tabled in the winter session in the National Assembly in Bhutan in 2015 but was deferred to the summer session in 2016 when it was passed by 28 votes with 10 ‘no’ votes and three abstentions out of the 41 members present.

Some transporters also filed a petition with the National Council or upper house to not pass the agreement. The National Council’s Legislative Committee came up with certain points regarding the agreement, including on lack of consultations, inconsistency with immigration laws, environmental and cultural impact among others.

The NC rejected the BBIN in November 2016.

There has been growing concern among Bhutanese citizens, transporters, tour operators and others over the large numbers of regional tourists driving into Bhutan, and its resultant impact on traffic and pollution in the Himalayan nation.

The NC’s decision to reject BBIN in its current form received widespread support from many ordinary Bhutanese people.

–IANS

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