India-Bangladesh trade had grown by 11.23% in 2016-17 fiscal to $7.5 billion, with India’s exports to Bangladesh increasing by 13% to $6.8 billion. Much of the trade was done through the country’s land ports, said sources at the Indo-Bangla Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
But experts opine that Bangladesh has not been able to reap full benefits of cross-border trade. The problem is related to the fact that most of the country’s land ports have remained unused since long due to a lack of adequate physical infrastructure, procedural complexities and poor regulatory framework.
In the opinion of Bangladesh Land Port authority officials, the country has a total of 23 land ports of which only 12 are now somehow operative. Construction work of 6 land stations has been going on with financial assistance from the World Bank, while the remaining 5 are yet to get the nod of ECNEC.
Apart from Teknaf port on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, the remaining 22 ports are situated along the frontier with India.
Businessmen have alleged that in the last five years the government invested money in making the ports functional, but they have not been made fully operational as yet. Three non-tariff barriers are affecting the ports’ activities. These are related to inadequate physical infrastructure, procedural complexities and poor regulatory framework.
Business houses said usually export consignments from India have to wait at Benapole for 17-20 days for clearance purposes only, which has a negative impact on business. They have proposed setting up off-border clearance facilities on both sides of the border to avert congestion of goods-laden vehicles in the port area.
On the question of a shortage of monetary resources to modernise and make the ports more effective, they pointed to human resource deficiency being an impediment to a carrying out of automated trade transactions.
The volume of trade has increased to 15.5 million tonnes in FY 17 from 3.42 million tonnes in FY 09, while the amount of revenue has risen to Tk 1.14 billion in FY 17 from Tk 270 million in FY 09.
Tapan Kumar Chakrabarty, chairman of the Bangladesh Land Port Authority, when contacted on Thursday told Bangladesh Post that the authority had taken various initiatives to enhance the capacity of the land ports in line with SDGs (sustainable development goals). “We want to digitalise all activities of the port soon. Besides, to tighten security we will install CCTV cameras” he added.
“Certainly, there are huge potentials in the region. But there is also a big gap in infrastructure needs“, he said. Investment in infrastructure, systems and procedures to modernise key selected land ports were essential for trade with India, he added.
Terming Bangladesh’s geographical location as a transit point between South and Southeast Asia, businesses have suggested adopting a broad-based multi-modal regional connectivity approach by involving the private sector to expand trade towards the Southeast Asian economies and beyond.
Zahid Hossain Biplob