Baby steps for Boosting Bilateral Trade
Amidst six hundred plus strong delegates, at the recently concluded second South Asia Maritime and Logistics Forum political leaders, diplomats and industry experts from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka reiterated the need to improve intra-regional trade, remove trade barriers and promote regional integration among South Asian nations. Presence of H.E Sheik Hasina, honourable Prime Minister of Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh as Chief Guest at the Forum demonstrated the commitment and willingness to initiate dialogue in this direction.
India-bangladesh trade grew 38 per cent to $9.1 billion over the last four years. On a year-on-year basis, the trade grew 24 per cent in 2017-18. This was followed by nearly 22 per cent growth in April-july 2018. This highlights the growing need to augment handling capacities on either side, keeping in tune with growing trade volumes.
Keeping in tune with the trend, movement of bilateral cargo through coastal shipping is also rising. Transshipment operations between India and Bangladesh can make coastal shipping more cost effective for bilateral trade, thereby shifting cargo from the costly land route, and create an opportunity for Bangladeshi garment exporters to reach European and
American markets avoiding congestion at the Chittagong port.
Indian customs authorities have already cleared the deck for Bangladesh to use Haldia as a transshipment port. However, Bangladesh is yet to approve the same. Container shipping lines and port operators in India are seeking a change in the bilateral coastal shipping agreement signed between India and Bangladesh to permit transshipment of Bangladesh cargo from Indian ports. The India-bangladesh coastal shipping agreement covers only origin-destination cargo between the two neighbouring countries. The deep draught ports like Visakhapatnam and Krishnapatnam on the eastern coast of India can act as hub ports for the onward transportation of cargo to Bangladesh via the coastal mode through river sea vessels with Indian ports securing more cargo and lower transport costs to Bangladesh. Similarly, Sri Lanka is also pushing for a bilateral coastal shipping agreement with Bangladesh to boost trade, investment and maritime connectivity between Dhaka and Colombo. It will increase the frequency of feeder services between the ports of Chittagong and Colombo, cutting down both the transshipment cost and time. Hopefully, secretary-level talks between India and Bangladesh this week in Delhi might find right solution!
The deep draught ports like Visakhapatnam and Krishnapatnam on the eastern coast of India can act as hub ports for the onward transportation of cargo to Bangladesh