The four South Asian nations signed the BBIN Agreement in June 2015 in Thimphu and the accord was seen as a significant symbol of sub-regional unity.
Despite ratifications by three partner countries, Bhutan’s Upper House has not yet ratified the deal, citing environmental as well as livelihood concerns.
However, according to an official from the Royal Government of Bhutan, the country “could ratify in May-June”.
“We are hopeful Bhutan will ratify it soon and are eagerly waiting for it. Four countries have been negotiating the protocols and standard operating procedures for the implementation. We made some headway,” said A.D. James, Deputy Secretary in the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.
The investments were being made in roads infrastructure linking the four countries, he said at an event ‘Facilitating implementation and stakeholder buy-in in the BBIN sub-region’ organised by Cuts International here.
“The agreement is still to be ratified by Bhutan and they have some concerns, though we are very hopeful. In fact, we appreciate the steps being taken by the Bhutanese government for explaining the benefits of the integration,” said Joint Secretary of Commerce Ministry (SAARC/South Asia) Bhupinder Singh Bhalla.
Although the Bhutanese government was committed to the agreement, the people in the country raised some issues.
“… In regards to BBIN, lot of issues were expressed on the possible negative impacts pertaining to the environment protection and local livelihood. The issue of culture was also raised,” Bhutan’s Ministry of Information and Communications Secretary Dasho Karma W. Penjor said.
“Even with the countries which already ratified it, operational issues still exist,” Penjor added.
The ratification was expected from the National Council, when the Upper House of Bhutan Parliament meets in May-June, he told IANS.
The Lower House has already ratified it.
“After the ratification by Bhutan, protocols will be signed and then only, the agreement will be implemented,” James said.
Meanwhile, the Narendra Modi government has been undertaking cargo trial runs in order to seek solution to challenges that may arise after the implementations, the official said.
“We undertook a trial run with cargo consignment from Dhaka to Delhi in August 2016. Usually, it takes 10-15 days to reach such consignment. During the trial run it reached in five days, reducing two-third of associated logistic cost,” James told IANS.
The implementation of the agreement is expected to improve the value chain in sub-regional trade.
Bhalla said the BBIN sub-grouping was expected to be the gateway to southeast and east Asia. India is working for development of inter-connectivity infrastructure for Myanmar and Thailand.
In this context, the experts also said a decision was taken to intiate a dialogues for a BIMSTEC (The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) Motors Vehicles Agreement in the senior officials meeting of the group of countries held last week in Kathmandu.