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Bhutan snubs regional road pact; no setback, asserts India
 NEW DELHI, May 3 - India today downplayed reports that Bhutan’s rejection of the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicles Agreement (BBIN MVA) was a setback to India’s ambitious proposal.

“It is not a setback and it’s understood that all the members are fully committed to the BBIN framework,” said Gopal Baglay, official spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs, briefing newsmen here.

“However, all members may not have the same speed on the matter, so we continue to be committed to the BBIN agreement, because it is a means to foster sub-regional cooperation in areas of common interest. It is not a setback and not a rejection,” he said.

Interestingly, the ‘Three Year Action Agenda’ released by the Niti Aayog last week has fully endorsed the BBIN framework and said that over the next three years, the government should move ahead with securing motor vehicles agreements to other Southeast Asian nations of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Although still to be fully implemented, the BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement 2015 should be used as a benchmark, it recommended.

However, in a setback to New Delhi’s ambitious regional cooperation strategy, Bhutan had in February rejected the move to join the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement, citing environmental concerns.

The four South Asian nations signed the BBIN agreement in June last year in Thimphu in what was seen as a significant symbol of sub-regional unity. The agreement allowed for the regulation of passenger, personal and cargo vehicular traffic among the four countries.

However, there have been reservations among some sections within Bhutan about the viability of this agreement given that it was a small country.

The sub-regional pact is considered an important milestone in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Act East’ policy and aimed to forge a regional cooperation boosting trade ties. It was India that piloted and pitched for the pact in the 2014 SAARC Summit in Kathmandu, urging the South Asian neighbours to fortify regional economic ties.

But Bhutan’s refusal to ratify the agreement has put a question mark over the proposal to establish a seamless cargo and vehicular passageway in the region.

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