Remarks by High Commissioner of India, H.E. Ms. Riva Ganguly Das at Webinar on Doing Business with Bangladesh 
[29 June, 2020] Statements & Speeches

Remarks by High Commissioner of India, H.E. Ms. Riva Ganguly Das at Webinar on Doing Business with Bangladesh [29 June, 2020]

Remarks by High Commissioner of India, H.E. Ms. Riva Ganguly Das at Webinar on Doing Business with Bangladesh [29 June, 2020 ]

Hon’ble Minister of State for External Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs Shri V Muraleedharanji

His Excellency Mr. Muhammad Imran, High Commissioner of Bangladesh to India

Mr. Sirajul Islam, Executive Chairman, Bangladesh Investment Development Authority

Mr. Shiekh Fazle Fahim, President, Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce & Industry

Mr. Md. Abdul Matlub Ahmad, President, India Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce & Industry

Mr. Chandrajit Banerjee, Director General, Confederation of Indian Industry

Mr. David Rasquinha, Managing Director, EXIM Bank

Business and Industry Members and Distinguished Guests

Good Afternoon,

          At the beginning, I would like to congratulate CII for organizing this timely initiative focusing on India-Bangladesh Economic relations and ways to strengthen them further.  I thank CII for giving me the opportunity to share my views on this subject.  Let me take this opportunity to congratulate CII & FBCCI for signing an MoU, it was much needed.

2. Friends, as you all know, under the visionary leadership of Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, our bilateral relationship has transformed significantly. Our relationship is based on history, language, secularism and several other commonalities. Our unique friendship is forged in the Liberation War of Bangladesh. Our neighborhood policy follows our Prime Minister’s vision of ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’, which implies that we prosper together. The Government of India accords top priority to its relations with Bangladesh. For us, it is neighborhood first, and in the neighborhood, it is Bangladesh first. As  High Commissioner Imran mentioned, virtually every aspect of relations is successfully handled between India and Bangladesh through a large number of mechanism.

3. Friends, in the last few years, close to 90 agreements including in high-tech areas, such as space, IT, electronics, cyber security and civil nuclear energy have been signed between India and Bangladesh.

4. The current format of our meeting is a reminder that we are going through extraordinary times as a result of the COVID pandemic. Trade and economic activities have got disrupted and supply chains are under stress.  Taking the lead and as a part of India’s Neighborhood First policy and with a view to taking a collaborative regional approach to containing the spread of COVID-19, Prime Minister Modi took the initiative to hold a video conference with leaders of other SAARC Countries on 15 March, 2020. Taking forward this initiative, separate video conferences between Health experts and Trade representatives of the SAARC nations discussing specific measures, exchange of best practices, capacity building, trade facilitation and supply chains amongst other were also held. India has also assisted Bangladesh by providing medical supplies and protective gear in containing COVID.

5. In a Phone conversation on 29 April 2020, both the leaders discussed the regional situation in the wake of COVID-19 and agreed to work together. Prime Minister Modi once again spoke to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on 25 May 2020 to wish her on the occasion of Eid. The frequent interaction of our leaders in the midst of COVID is a clear indication of the high priority which we accord to India-Bangladesh relations. 

6. There is, however, no doubt that we are today facing an unprecedented challenge because of COVID-19. The economic forecast for the world is grim.  India and Bangladesh cannot be immune from this but we can certainly try and explore opportunities in the midst of this situation.  I think our geographical proximity and the rail, road & river water and soon port connectivity that exists between our two countries provides us with many opportunities that we can leverage.  

7. While India and Bangladesh trade has been growing rapidly in the last few years and reached more than USD 10 billion last year with Bangladesh’s own exports to India crossing USD 1 billion mark.

8. As you are aware, land borders between India and Bangladesh were severely disrupted due to the COVID crisis which will no doubt have impact on trade. While land ports have now opened up, because of the need to maintain social distancing and other necessary health precautions, movement of goods is relatively slow.  Turning this crisis into an opportunity, we have seen a tremendous growth in rail movement.  We have worked very closely with Indian Railways and Bangladesh Railway to ensure smooth flow of goods between the two countries throughout this pandemic.

9. The existing four railway links at Petrapole-Benapole, Radhikapur-Birol, Gede-Darshana and Rohanpur-Singhabad have emerged as critical infrastructure for hassle free operations across the border. Starting from 9 May around 115 freight trains loaded with essential commodities like Onions, Chilies, Ginger, Sugar, Rice seeds, Turmeric, Spices, Paper, Bleaching Powder, De-oiled cake, Maize, Stone and Fly Ash etc have been transported to Bangladesh. Recently railways from both the countries have agreed to operate parcel vans and side door container trains for value added goods in addition to the BCN wagons which are running at present. This will be a great opportunity for traders importing/exporting smaller quantities as well as value added goods. On request of the business community, Bangladesh railways have increased the monthly allocation of freight trains to Indian railways by approximately 33% for the month of June 2020 (from 120 to 160 trains).

10. The Protocol on Inland Waterways Trade and Transit (PIWTT) for improving inland waterways connectivity has been in existence for a long time. We also recently inked the 2nd Addendum to PIWTT to include 2 additional routes between Sonamura-Daudhkandi and Rajshahi-Godagir-Dhulian with extension upto Aricha and five additional Port of Calls.  This makes the total ports of call 11, 2 extended ports of call and total PIWTT routes 10.  I am happy to share that a 45 container consignment carrying 1,100 tonnes of sponge iron worth 55 trucks is likely to sail from Garden Reach Kolkata for its destination to Summit Alliance Port in Mukhtarpur  and will reach in next 5 to 7 days. Clearly COVID has opened opportunities while also posing huge challenge to us. 

11. We have also signed the Standard Operating Protocol on the use of Chattogram and Mongla ports in 2019 and the first trail run on this route is expected shortly. With the present 4 lane Chattogram to Dhaka highway and further upgradation of the Dhaka to Sylhet Highway into 6 lane highway, the connectivity between Meghalaya and Chattogram will improve significantly. Government of India is also constructing a new rail link between Akhaura and Agartala under grant funding and a four-lane highway project from Ashuganj river port to Akhaura land port under LOC amongst other projects. We are certain that once all these projects are operational, it will greatly enhance economic cooperation between North eastern States of India and Bangladesh and further the development of the logistics and transport infrastructure in the region. I am confident that transshipment between India and Bangladesh will also prove to be a defining economic partnership between us. This along with the many initiatives Government of India has taken in the wake of COVID challenge most important of which is Atmanirbhar Bharat, which can be explored for integration of value chains between our two countries.  Happy to learn from Chandrajit Banerjee about sectoral and cross sectional investment missions, roadshows and capacity building.  We also heard some ideas from President, FBCCI.  More connection-collaborations between SMEs are needed.

12. India is dedicated to take regional cooperation forward through various initiatives, including BBIN and BIMSTEC. Bangladesh is the fulcrum of India’s Act East policy. Various connectivity project including BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement, Asian Highways Network and the railway networks will integrate our economies together and will propel our region forward. I am happy to inform that that 1st round of negotiations under the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) for seamless passenger, personal and cargo movements were recently concluded in Delhi and I am certain that once signed the BBIN MVA will be a game-changer for our neighbourhood cooperation.

13. India is also a committed development partner of Bangladesh, and we have extended three lines of credit of worth USD 8 billion to Bangladesh. This is the largest amount of concessional credit India has given to any single country which demonstrates that India accords highest priority to relations with Bangladesh. The projects covered under these Lines of Credit will help improve infrastructure in Bangladesh in sectors like ports, power, railways, roads& transport, airports, health and IT etc. More than 80% of Indian LOCs are for infrastructure projects, which is by itself an engine of growth. With the development of two Indian Economic Zones at Mirsarai and Mongla, and 12 IT Parks in Bangladesh under Indian Line of Credit, more private Indian investments will be encouraged.

14. I would like to underscore that given the geographical proximity with the North Eastern States of India, Bangladesh is in the best position to tap into the abundant natural resources and the economic potential of the Northeast. Bangladesh companies can also consider investing in the Northeastern states.

15. Friends, South Asia is at a critical juncture of history. A world of opportunity is beckoning us.  In a region like ours which is emotionally connected by historical links and deep cultural linkages, it requires careful articulation of ideas. There is no denying that COVID-19 is one of the most difficult challenges, the world has ever seen, but it is also an opportunity to look out for new ideas in terms of innovation. I am certain that our two countries with our young, risk loving and willing to take up challenge population will come out to a future which will be much brighter and where we emerge much stronger.  All stakeholders will have to work harder to make our region and sub-region more integrated.  Business community has to come forward to identify the synergies that exist and leverage the geographical proximity and the framework of connectivity already in place. 

16. I once again congratulate CII for organizing the webinar event. I also pay my compliments to all the senior dignitaries, members of Chamber of Commerce and Industry for participating in this significant dialogue. I sincerely hope that this dialogue will give valuable insights to take forward our mutually beneficial partnership to newer heights and opening of new vistas for co-operation between India and Bangladesh.

17. I fully understand that businesses of both sides are under a lot of pressure and there are many micro issues which need to be resolved. I would, therefore, strongly suggest that there should be more dialogue between industry and trade bodies and innovative solutions to disputes and bilateral problems have to be found. I am happy that CII has taken this initiative, but I hope more such interactions are held especially with their counterpart trade bodies.