Vaccine: Dhaka, Delhi agree ‘in principle’ to start phase-III trials in Bangladesh

There was an indication that the 6th Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) meeting would generate no concrete outcome on Teesta water sharing front. The Foreign Minister-level meeting between the two countries held quickly and virtually on September 29 that lasted for only one hour though Bangladesh and India have many issues to discuss.

Yet there are some positive outcome in new areas apart from a decision to hold the Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) meeting as soon as possible to discuss water issues broadly with much focus on technical issues including data sharing. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi will hold a Summit meeting virtually in December. If COVID-19 situation improves, Prime Minister Modi will be visiting Bangladesh in person.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's planned visit to Bangladesh in March 2020 had to be postponed due to the sudden onset of COVID-19. The two sides hoped that the visit could be rescheduled, coinciding with the commencement of the 50th anniversary celebrations of Bangladesh's independence as well as establishment of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and India.

Vaccine Trials

Bangladesh and India have "agreed in principle" to go for the clinical trials of Covid-19 vaccines in Bangladesh soon after India launches these trials there.

Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar conveyed Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen that they are ready to start phase-III clinical trials of Covid-19 vaccines in Bangladesh soon after they launch these trials in India.

Bangladesh "agreed in principle" on the proposal, a senior diplomat at the Indian High Commission in Dhaka told Dhaka Courier.

"Common trials will help strengthen cooperation among our regulators and simplify processes for future distribution and joint production of vaccines," said the Indian Minister.

Collaboration to produce Covid-19 vaccines will be highly important, said the Indian Minister.

"We look forward to cooperating with Bangladesh in vaccine development, trials as well as distribution and production as and when vaccines are ready for use," Dr Jaishankar said during the Foreign Minister-level talks with Bangladesh on Tuesday.

He said Bangladesh will be accorded high priority in all these efforts.

Talking to Dhaka Courier, a senior official said the Indian Home Secretary will be visiting Dhaka in November to hold a meeting with his Bangladesh counterpart and discuss border management and consular issues.

Reaffirming India's commitment to prioritising the supply of Covid-19 vaccine, the Indian External Affairs Minister emphasised the importance of Bangladesh in India's 'Neighborhood First' policy.

In this context, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen and his Indian counterpart directed their officials to expedite the exchange of required information regarding the phase-III testing, vaccine distribution, co-production and delivery in Bangladesh.

The Indian side appreciated Bangladesh's contribution to the Saarc COVID-19 Emergency Fund to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

"I'm glad that our health professionals are regularly exchanging information on best practices on the prevention and management of the COVID-19 pandemic," said the Indian External Affairs Minister.

The Indian side has also offered 10 online courses on Covid-19 management and an exclusive online course in Bangla for Bangladesh health professionals.

Foreign Minister of Bangladesh Dr Momen appreciated India's assurance on prioritizing Bangladesh for the supply of any potential vaccine in the future.

About the vaccine, Dr Momen said Bangladesh wants to ensure COVID-19 vaccine for the people of Bangladesh whenever it is produced and ready for use.

"We'll collect it from the country which will produce the vaccine first for the public good," he told reporters in a separate briefing.

Dr Momen said Bangladesh has already communicated with all possible countries including Britain and European Union, not just with India and China.

Still Hopeful of Teesta

Bangladesh and India agreed to resolve the water-sharing issues of common rivers, including Teesta treaty, and bring down border killings to a zero level

"We're always hopeful about Teesta. The Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) meeting will be held soon," Dr Momen said soon after the JCC talks.

Bangladesh laid emphasis on "early resolution" of the Teesta water-sharing issue apart from resolving water sharing of other common rivers, Dr Momen said.

Both sides underscored the necessity of early resolution of the Teesta water sharing and agreements on sharing over all common rivers.

The two sides also agreed to hold the long pending Joint Rivers Commission meeting soon at the ministerial-level to address outstanding issues on water resources cooperation.

Killing Hurts Solid Ties

Bangladesh also conveyed deep concern over deaths along the Bangladesh and India international border, said the minister, adding that both sides discussed sustainable repatriation of Rohingyas to their place of origin in Rakhine State.

"We want no death along the border. It's a shame for both friendly countries like Bangladesh and India. It hurts our solid relations," Dr Momen said.

The two ministers stressed the need for strengthening effective implementation of the Coordinated Border Management Plan.

The Bangladesh side highlighted that the "entire nation is deeply concerned" at the rise in the killing of Bangladeshi nationals by the Indian border force.

The Indian side agreed that the loss of civilian lives along the border is a matter of concern.

Both sides urged the border forces concerned to enhance coordinated measures to bring down border incidents to a zero level.

During the meeting, the Bangladesh Foreign Minister expressed the hope that as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, India would play a more meaningful role in having a lasting solution to the Rohingya crisis, including their early repatriation to Myanmar, in a safe and sustainable manner.

Secretaries and high- level representatives from a large number of ministries and divisions of both the countries joined the meeting.

Although it was Dhaka's turn to host the meeting, the meeting was held on a web platform due to the Covid-19 situation.

Covid-9, Mutual Issues

During the meeting, the two ministers reviewed and discussed the entire gamut of bilateral relations, including cooperation on connectivity, security, political issues, development, trade and investment, power and energy sector and people- to-people contacts.

Both sides expressed satisfaction that even during the current situation induced by the pandemic Covid-19, Bangladesh and India have maintained robust engagements.

The two Foreign Ministers recognised the positive trajectory of bilateral relations enjoyed by the two countries and exchanged gratitude with each other for maintaining the gesture of good neighborliness.

Against the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic, both sides discussed collaboration in the health sector, especially in terms of supply, delivery, distribution and co-production of Covid-19 vaccine.

The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh appreciated India's assurance on prioritising Bangladesh for the supply of potential vaccine in the future.

Both sides agreed to jointly celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Independence of Bangladesh and the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

A number of programmes were proposed to be organised jointly to mark the two epoch events, such as revival of the historic Mujibnagar-Kolkata road, honoring the Indian war veterans, ceremonial military parades on December 16, organizing friendship fairs, year-long seminars in different cities of Bangladesh and India, and simultaneous launching of a website on 50 years of victory and friendship.

The two sides agreed to establish Bangabandhu-Bapu digital museums both in Bangladesh and India.

The Indian government would also release a commemorative stamp on the birth centenary of Bangabandhu on December 16, 2020 to pay their homage to the life and ideology of Bangabandhu, according to a joint statement.

The two ministers positively reviewed the possibilities of resumption of air connectivity, during the ongoing pandemic, through special air bubble arrangement with equal share of frequencies and routes by the carriers of the two countries.

The Bangladesh side requested the Indian side to reciprocally ease visa and land border restrictions for Bangladeshi nationals, particularly for medical patients and students enrolled in various educational institutions of India.

Trade Issues

The Bangladesh side thanked India for the concessions being provided under SAFTA.

However, various non-tariff barriers and lack of adequate trade facilitation is impeding flow of Bangladeshi products into India, particularly, the North East.

Bangladesh requested Indian side to address the issues of accreditation, certification, standardization, port restrictions and developing port infrastructure to enable exports of Bangladesh into India.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister requested his Indian counterpart to look into the export of essential commodities, such as onions by India, since this affected the domestic market of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh also stressed the equitable application of investment policies by India. Both sides discussed implementation of the development projects under Indian Linesof Credit in a timely manner.

A high-level monitoring committee was agreed to be formed with Secretary ERD and Indian High Commissioner in Bangladesh leading the committee on each side.

Enhancing cooperation on energy and power sector through facilitation of tripartite power-energy cooperation among Bangladesh-India-Nepaland Bangladesh-India-Bhutan was also discussed.

After the talks, both the ministers jointly unveiled two commemorative stamps as part of the celebration of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

Air Travel Bubble

Both Ministers tasked their officials to work closely to avoid disruption of supply chains, particularly in the post-COVID period.

They emphasized the need to resume unhindered two-way trade through the land ports, while optimising use of the four trans-border railway connections as well as inland and coastal waterways.

Both countries agreed to initiate 'air travel bubble' flights to meet the urgent requirements of certain categories of travellers on both sides during the pandemic.

Bangladesh side also requested the Indian side to resume regular travel through land ports at the earliest.

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