South Asia’s dom­i­nance in mar­itime trade

Maritime Gateway - - From The Editor - R Ram­prasad Ed­i­tor and Pub­lisher ram­prasad@gate­way­media.in

The Chi­nese flotilla skirt­ing along the In­dian Ocean Re­gion (IOR) in­ter­mit­tently and the US Navy’s pres­ence in the Malacca Straits tells us this: the cen­tre of grav­ity in world af­fairs has shifted to Asia. And the IOR is the heart of all mar­itime trade and se­cu­rity. Geopol­i­tics is per­haps the big­gest driver of sea and land trans­porta­tion some­times unit­ing nations and some­times lead­ing them adrift.

The fight for dom­i­nance has led the coun­tries to de­velop new ter­mi­nals, ex­pand ex­ist­ing ones and im­prove their in­land trans­porta­tion. The im­por­tance of the IOR in gov­ern­ing the high seas has even led China and Ja­pan to in­vest many in­fra­struc­ture projects in three main mar­itime nations – In­dia, Sri Lanka and Pak­istan. China’s in­ter­ests in the Gwadar Port, the One Belt One Road in Pak­istan and its keen­ness in de­vel­op­ing the Ham­ban­tota port states the ob­vi­ous. Bangladesh has made a sur­pris­ing en­try de­vel­op­ing new ports along its shores. 2017 has been an in­ter­est­ing year and so the next year will be some­thing to look for­ward too.

If the past years have been an op­por­tu­nity for each coun­try to work in si­los, the com­ing years present an op­por­tu­nity to grow as a re­gion. If In­dia’s dom­i­nance is in the suc­cess of the Sa­gar­mala pro­gramme, Sri Lanka’s is in be­ing the big­gest tran­ship­ment hub of the re­gion. Pak­istan and Bangladesh are gear­ing them­selves up to be win­dows to the Mid­dle East and East Asia. For these coun­tries to grow in eco­nomic su­pe­ri­or­ity, it is im­per­a­tive that they work to­gether. This will lead to bet­ter re­gional sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity. Each can play to its strengths and fall back on an­other for help in weaker seg­ments of trade.

That many ship­ping lines have deep­ened their in­land ser­vices in­vest­ment in these coun­tries is it­self rea­son to func­tion as one big en­ter­prise shar­ing the seas and the op­por­tu­nity to be re­gional su­per­pow­ers. But In­dia and Sri Lanka have to tick a few boxes off be­fore they can make a mark on the world stage. Slash­ing lo­gis­tics cost to a sin­gle digit and in­vest­ing a few hun­dred mil­lion in im­prov­ing its first and last-mile con­nec­tiv­ity will im­prove ef­fi­ciency and cost ef­fec­tive­ness of de­liv­er­ing cargo to and from the ports. Two chal­lenges, how­ever, stare at the face of these re­forms. Fund­ing and speed of ex­e­cu­tion. En­sur­ing lo­cal pop­u­la­tions and gov­ern­ments are open to the ma­jor eco­nomic and so­cial change will be key to the speed with which the pro­gram moves to­wards its ob­jec­tives.

For these coun­tries to grow in eco­nomic su­pe­ri­or­ity, it is im­per­a­tive that they work to­gether. This will lead to bet­ter re­gional sta­bil­ity and se­cu­rity.

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