South Asia

 
Published: Thursday 15 September 2005

Energy plantations: Aiming at a renewable energy leap, the Sri Lankan government recently approved a proposal to declare gliricidia tree, traditionally used for fuel wood and fencing, as a national plantation crop. This is the first time in many years that the government has added another crop to the 'tea, rubber and coconut' group, the mainstays of the economy in terms of export and domestic need.

Like tea, gliricidia is not native to the country. It was brought from Mexico nearly 300 years ago. The government plans to develop around 0.2 million hectares of gliricidia plantation and has said it would seek aid for the purpose. Plantations minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa told an international conference in Colombo on August 17, 2005, that it is estimated that energy generation from gliricidia would be around 500 megawatts. The Coconut Cultivation Board will look after the implementation of the government plan till a separate agency is established for the purpose.

Dhaka opposes FTA: A recent effort to evolve a common approach to bridge the trade gap between India and Bangladesh could not meet its desired end. Bangladesh's commerce ministry says the country's annual trade gap with India is US $1.3 billion; Indian exports to Bangladesh amount to US$1.4 billion, while its imports are merely worth US$100 million. External affairs minister Natwar Singh visited Dhaka recently to participate in a debate organised by Bangladesh's Centre for Policy Dialogue and India International Centre. He suggested that the two nations should "expeditiously" sign a free trade agreement (FTA). But Bangladesh opposed a bilateral pact and favoured the implementation of a South Asian Free Trade Area to remove all trade barriers, instead.

"Why should we sign FTA when it (is) anything but free?...It's a misconception that free trade is really free and convenient for a country with small potential like Bangladesh...," argued Bangladesh's foreign minister M Morhsed Khan. But Singh pointed at the success of the bilateral trade agreement between India and Sri Lanka to counter Khan's view.

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