Connectivity allows commerce. Whereas that is an historic story, we generally are inclined to neglect this easy logic. Our penchant for wanting on the complete tree, as towards the attention of a parrot, tends to push us in direction of debating commerce points in technical and esoteric language, at occasions far faraway from floor realties. We’ve to first grasp the fundamentals of commerce and likewise understand that speaking about commerce prospects is reasonably completely different from making commerce doable.
The influence of the Covid-19 pandemic on cross-border commerce between India and Bangladesh has, as soon as once more, underlined this easy reality. For numerous fundamental requirements, together with commodities corresponding to onions or salt, Bangladesh relies on India. Nothing improper with that as no person can or ought to produce every thing. Nonetheless, as a result of legit health-related issues, throughout this international pandemic, land borders, via which bulk of Indo-Bangla cross-border commerce takes place, are firmly closed.
Does it imply that Bangladesh just isn’t receiving Indian items which they require as important requirements? The reply is an emphatic ‘no’. Commerce exchanges are going down by way of the railways and waterways. Indian items are being despatched by way of railway wagons alongside the Gede-Darshana route.
Coastal transport can be underway, primarily linking Indian ports of Kolkata/Haldia and Vishakhapatnam with the Bangladeshi ports of Chittagong and Mongla. Whereas these connections are many years outdated, the India-Bangladesh Coastal Transport Settlement is a serious enabler for lowering each time and value.
These coastal transport routes are additionally getting used to ship items to India’s North-eastern states, that are closely depending on this hyperlink, as transporting fundamental requirements by way of the ‘chicken’s neck’, the Siliguri hall, just isn’t absolutely operational. Bangladesh is cooperating with India in facilitating such commerce.
Thus, different technique of connectivity matter most in emergency scenario like this, in addition to throughout regular occasions; additionally they assist diversify logistics, which is essentially the most important ingredient for making commerce really happen. The just lately signed ‘Second Addendum on Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade between India and Bangladesh’ is to be considered on this context. That’s about enabling extra commerce, in a greater method.
Most significantly, this instrument has provisions, which might localise commerce. For instance, the inclusion of Sonamura-Daudkhandi stretches on the Gumti River bordering Tripura, as a part of the India-Bangladesh Protocol Route, has been useful. Equally, the inclusion of Jogighopa in India and Bahadurabad in Bangladesh bordering Assam makes these new ports of name. Motion of shallow draft mechanised vessels can be allowed. Taken collectively all these measures will assist commerce in native merchandise between India’s North-eastern states and Bangladesh. There can’t be higher examples of ‘Vocal for Local’.
The above had been a few of the main suggestions, which got here out of the work of CUTS Worldwide and its companions in Northeast India and Bangladesh beneath a undertaking titled ‘Trans-boundary Rivers of South Asia’, which is being managed by Oxfam with help from the Swedish Worldwide Growth Company. It is a profitable instance of South-South in addition to trilateral growth cooperation.
Whereas these are some current optimistic developments in fostering higher connectivity for commerce between India and Bangladesh, far more work and energy is required. With help from India beneath its ‘Development Partnership’ programmes, quite a few outdated railway hyperlinks are being revived, such because the Chittagong-Dibrugarh line, whereas new ones corresponding to Mongla Port-Khulna, Agartala-Akhaura are additionally being developed. With the development of the Padma Bridge in Bangladesh, anticipated to be accomplished over the following two years, additional connectivity alternatives might be explored.
The Padma Bridge is a twin function bridge, having each highway and rail hyperlinks. If the outdated railway line linking Sealdah in West Bengal and Khulna in Bangladesh by way of the Petrapole-Benapole border (the outdated Barisal Categorical) is revived, and prolonged to the Padma Bridge, then the time and value of commerce exchanges alongside this stretch can be decreased by greater than three-quarter, in contrast with the current scenario. Additionally, there can be no congestion on the Petrapole-Benapole land border as the vast majority of commerce will shift to the rail hyperlink. At current, vans carrying items generally have to attend as a lot as two weeks to cross this border.
We are able to additionally view the above optimistic developments in a wider body, that of stronger sub-regional cooperation that brings profit to the opposite rapid, geographic neighbours. All we have to do is to recognise that these nations — that’s Nepal and Bhutan — are each potential and precise beneficiaries of stronger, extra strong rail, river and highway networks that interlock and join with them.
As economies and as inhabitants hubs, the smaller nations don’t examine with Bangladesh and India, however within the context of their very own economies, any extra features in connectivity choices and commerce additionality translate into vital direct advantages. And this breathes impetus, plus validity, into the BBIN Venture, benefiting all of the 4, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal.
Trying past the 4 nations is the ‘South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation’ (SASEC) Venture, additionally a beneficiary of Asian Growth Financial institution help, which widens the attain of sub-regional cooperation to usher in the Maldives, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. As with BBIN, we want efficient floor stage actions amongst these seven nations, every of which adjoins India with a shared land or shut sea border.
Previously we elevated bilateral diplomacy to an all-embracing doctrine, which not directly closed off advantages of wider, issue-based partnerships. We additionally want imaginative actions to maneuver ahead regional programmes, the extra so when all these seven nations take pleasure in optimistic sentiment that helps cooperative actions.
Regional diplomacy just isn’t a matter of binary decisions, the place choosing one closes the door to the opposite. Every group has its validity and context. Every can and does co-exist with different groupings. The underside-line is: Does the group have an interior logic and a possible for achieve for all of the members? Because the bigger state, it behoves us to maneuver ahead with the imaginative and prescient of shared advantages and stronger mutual partnerships.
(Bipul Chatterjee is Govt Director, CUTS Worldwide, a worldwide public coverage think- and action-tank on commerce, rules and governance; Kishan S Rana is former diplomat who was India’s Ambassador and Excessive Commissioner in Algeria, Czechoslovakia, Kenya, Mauritius, and Germany; and consul common in San Francisco)