Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen with Bhutan's Foreign Secretary Pema Choden

Govt considering Bangladesh request for SDF discount

Recently the Bangladesh Embassy issued a press release on the visit of the Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen.

Buried in the press release was an important line which said that the Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh raised the issue of Sustainable Development Fees (SDF) for tourists and requested to reduce the current SDF for the Bangladeshi tourists.

The release said the Bhutanese side assured of positive consideration. It also said the two sides agreed to work together to enhance tourism and foster people to people contact.

It has now been learnt that ever since the USD 200 tariff was announced for all, except for India which has to pay Rs 1,200, the Bangladesh government at various levels from the Embassy in Bhutan to ministers in Bangladesh have been requesting Bhutan for the same SDF as India.

It came up frequently during trade and transit talks with Bangladesh and also at Foreign Ministry level talks between the two sides since 2022.

It has been learnt that whenever Bangladeshi ministers and senior officials visited Bhutan or vice versa this was one request that was always brought up.

This time around there has been a change of heart in Bhutan as it has been learnt that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade (MoFAT) is considering the request and it may be put up to the cabinet for a final decision.

As mentioned in the press release the government is likely to positively consider it which will mean Bangladeshi tourists also coming in like Indian tourists at Rs 1,200.

Currently Bangladeshi tourists have to pay USD 100 per day like all non-Indian tourists which has meant next to none tourists coming from the country.

If and when the cabinet agrees to give Bangladesh the SDF discount it will come as a tourism boost for Bhutan’s tourism industry too.

This is because in 2019 after India the country with the second highest visitors to Bhutan was from Bangladesh.

In 2019 there were a total of 315,599 tourists that came of which 230,381 were from India followed by 13,016 from Bangladesh with the third being USA at 11,707.

However, in 2019 there was no SDF for Indian and Bangladeshi tourists so the numbers will definitely not be as high as 2019.

Bhutan agreed to consider the request of Bangladesh positively due to the increasing trading and connectivity ties between the two countries.

An important point to note is that Bangladesh is not only Bhutan’s second largest export market but it is also the only country with which Bhutan has a trade surplus.

For example, in 2023 Bhutan exported Nu 5 billion worth of goods to Bangladesh while Bhutan only imported Nu 797 million worth of goods from Bangladesh.

Bhutan and Bangladesh have a Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) implemented from July 2022 where Bangladesh enjoys duty benefit on export of 100 local products and Bhutan enjoys duty benefit on its 34 products.

The two countries also signed the Transit Agreement and Protocol or establishing arrangements for multi-modal communication channels via road, water ways, railways and airways between Bangladesh and Bhutan.

An agreement is soon to be signed that will allow Bhutanese trucks into Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has also offered its sea ports to Bhutan for import and export including to and from third countries.

Bangladesh has also agreed to give discounts for Bhutan’s third internet gateway.

The highlight was during the recent visit of His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen when Bangladesh offered Bhutan a 200 Acre Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Kurigram bordering Assam and not very far away from Gelephu and Phuentsholing.

Bhutan and Bangladesh signed a Memorandum of Understanding for cooperation in the health sector, which includes the establishment of a Burn, Plastic, and Reconstructive Surgery Unit in Thimphu.

A source said that in historic times the silt coming from the rivers in Bhutan to Bangladesh helped form Bangladesh and when Bangladesh had a rich Buddhist civilization monks like Tilopa, Naropa, Atisha and Nagi Rinchen gave spirituality to Bhutan and the so in fact there was always a connection between the two countries.

He said this connection culminated in His Majesty The Third King being the first to recognize Bangladesh as a country and so a new sort of special relationship started.

The source said that given this there is a lot of goodwill for Bhutan in Bangladesh and young people in Bangladesh want to come and see Bhutan, a country that recognized modern Bangladesh first.

He said the USD 100 SDF had made it too expensive and so a discount would improve people to people ties.

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