Neighbourhood outreach: Sushma leaves for Bangladesh Wednesday

New Delhi : External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will leave for Bangladesh Wednesday on her first stand-alone visit abroad after assuming office with India expected to raise its concerns over illegal migration and Dhaka likely to raise the land boundary agreement and Teesta water treaty.

The visit is considered another step forward in the National Democratic Alliance government’s outreach in the neighbourhood which started with Prime Minister Narendra Modi inviting leaders from SAARC countries for his swearing in last month.

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Ahead of the visit, India, however, stated that there was no proposal on the table to provide visa-free travel to Bangladeshi nationals.

During Sushma Swaraj’s three-day visit which culminates June 27, the two sides are slated to discuss various matters of bilateral interest.

Relations between India and Bangladesh have been on the upswing over the last few years and the visit is seen as another effort to cement ties with “a close friend”.

Officials said that Sushma Swaraj choosing Bangladesh for her first stand-alone visit abroad reflects the importance that India attaches to its bilateral relationship with the neighbouring country. Modi’s first visit had been to Bhutan.

It will be the first contact of India’s new foreign minister with Bangladesh’s top political leadership.

The visit is being described as “goodwill” and Sushma Swaraj is likely to carry a goodwill message for Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who couldn’t attend Modi’s swearing-in as she was on a foreign trip. Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury had represented Bangladesh.

During her visit, taking place at the invitation of Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, Sushma Swaraj will hold talks with her counterpart and will also call on Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid and Sheikh Hasina.

The minister will also engage with think tanks, chambers of commerce and industry and cultural organisations.

During the discussions, Bangladesh is expected to raise the land boundary agreement and Teesta water treaty issues while India is likely to voice its concerns on illegal migration from the neighbouring country.

Modi had spoken strongly on the issue of illegal migration from Bangladesh during the Lok Sabha election campaign.

The previous United Progressive Alliance government had assured Bangladesh that agreements concerning the Teesta water treaty and demarcation of land boundaries will become a reality.

The Teesta river treaty had been put on hold after West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee expressed some reservations, while the land boundary agreement needs ratification by the Indian Parliament as it involves exchange of land.

The two countries are expected to discuss ways to improve trade and commerce and boost cooperation in the power sector. Issues related to energy, investment and people-to-people contacts are also likely to be discussed.

Industry body Confederation of Indian Industry Tuesday said that India-Bangladesh trade could double to $10 billion by 2018, provided trading irritants like non-tariff barriers and infrastructure-related issues are resolved.

Amid suggestions that there were discussions in the government on visa-free travel for certain category of Bangladeshi nationals, external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said there was no such proposal.

The two sides are also expected to discuss dates for the next joint consultative commission meeting.