Remarks by the High Commissioner of India, Guest of Honour, at the 21 Founding Anniversary of Bangladesh Land Port Authority – Role of Land Ports in Promoting Regional Trade, Connectivity and Economic Prosperity [14 June, 2022]
Hon’ble State minister, Ministry of Shipping, Government of Bangladesh, H.E. Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury, MP
Major (Retd.) Rafiqul Islam, Bir Uttom, Member of Parliament & Chairman Standing Committee on Ministry of Shipping
Mr. Md. Shafiul Islam, Member of Parliament & Former President, FBCCI
Mr. Md. Mostafa Kamal, Secretary, Ministry of Shipping
Mr. Md. Alamgir, Chairman, Bangladesh Land Port Authority
Mr. Abdul Matlub Ahmad, President, India-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce & Industry
Mr. Faruque Hassan, President, BGMEA; Rear Admiral Mohammed Musa, Chairman of Mongla Port; DG Shipping, Chairman of BIWTA, senior officials of the ministry
Captains of Industry,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Shuvo Shokal, Salam Alekum ba Nomoshkar,
- I am delighted to be present here today at the event celebrating 21st Founding Anniversary of Bangladesh Land Port Authority.
- Under the visionary leadership of Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, our bilateral relationship has transformed significantly. In the last decade, we have made substantial progress in advancing relations between India and Bangladesh. Our trade and commercial ties and connectivity have also grown in tandem with the progress made in the overall bilateral relations.
- India, with its diverse market, has emerged as the top export destination for Bangladesh in Asia. I am happy to share that in the ongoing financial year exports to India is likely to cross USD 2 Bn, which will be a significant year-on-year growth of 50% approximately. This is a remarkable feat in this very special year. Bangladesh is also India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia and India is your biggest export market in Asia - today by far - more than any other Asian country. India granted duty-free, quota-free access to Bangladesh as a SAARC LDC under SAFTA nearly a decade ago, which has enabled greater exports from Bangladesh to India, particularly from the Readymade Garments (RMG) industry. And as Bangladesh graduates from the LDC status and we move towards a suitable CEPA to preserve the special bilateral trade relationship, we should assume that 2 way trades will only increase further.
- Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said “Connectivity is Productivity”, which is also reflected in World Bank’s 2021 report which states – “Improvement in transport connectivity and a Trade Agreement between our two countries could increase Bangladesh’s exports to India by 297%. Better connectivity is central to improving the ease of doing business and the ease of living, both key priorities of current leadership.” Seamless transport connectivity between India and Bangladesh has the potential to increase national income by as much as 17 percent in Bangladesh and 8 percent in India.
- One of the key and very significant stakeholders for better connectivity is Bangladesh Land Port Authority and its Indian counterpart Land Port Authority of India. Today, almost 40-45% of our bilateral trade and a significant proportion of people to people movement are channeled through 34 functioning Land Customs Stations, and 04 Integrated Check Posts between our two countries.
- The COVID pandemic has made us realize the importance of our connectedness. I am happy to share that, despite disruptions globally, India – Bangladesh have continued to maintain supply chains; in fact, we innovated new logistic modalities such as movement of Container trains and Parcel vans, which has helped sustain supply of essential commodities including Medical Oxygen, COVID vaccines, RT-PCR test kits and other such emergency medical supplies. The role of Land Port authorities in providing Green Channels and all out support to these initiatives is praiseworthy.
- Under the guidance of Hon’ble Minister and Secretary Shipping and under the direct stewardship of Chairman, Bangladesh Land Port Authority and Land Port Authority of India, important steps towards improving the trade and immigration infrastructure to facilitate easier flow of goods and people have been taken in the last year. In the last year, remarkable initiatives such as “Inauguration of Maitree Setu connecting Sabroom in Tripura and Ramgarh in Bangladesh by the Hon’ble Prime Ministers”; “Foundation Stone for the 2nd Cargo Terminal Gate at ICP Petrapole-Benapole”; “Laying of Railway siding at Benapole” have been initiated. Government of India also plans to improve infrastructure of 7 more Land Customs Stations including Dawki LCS where work has already commenced. Similarly, given the importance of Petrapole-Benapole to movement of passengers, a new Passenger Terminal Building – 1 was also inaugurated. We have also restored and resumed train and bus services that were suspended during COVID. We thank LPAB for its services & support.
- We are aware of and appreciate warmly the initiatives taken by the Bangladesh Land Port Authority to develop infrastructure and an enabling environment at land ports to smoothen the movement of cargo and passengers. I am happy to note that BLPA is working towards automation of Benapole, Bhomra, Burimari, Akhaura and Tamabil port by 2025. Both World Bank and Asian Development Bank are also extending their support in port modernization and digitalization of BLPA.
- Looking ahead, friends, let me make a few specific suggestions:
(a) New facilitation: the improvement of infrastructure at LCS & ICPs is obviously a key to increase economic activity in a mutually beneficial manner. For this, a few specific ideas are:
(i) Opening of a second gate at Petrapole – Benapole & we have proposed to build a 4 lane, back to back India – Bangladesh cargo gate at Petrapole – Benapole, to increase the throughput of vehicles from around 400 a day to at least 600 to 800/day.
-> We also suggest building new infrastructure including additional warehouses and cold storage & ICD facilities plus new bonded warehouses up to the especially for exports.
(ii) Simplified regulations:
We need to deprioritize Petrapole – Benapole by improving infrastructure at several other points, and also increase the number of ports w/o restrictions, starting with Agartala, but also going on to the Meghalaya & Assam borders, and also possibly in north and south Bengal. Right now, there is no real incentive for extreme investment in Land Ports unless regulations to encourage us. Similarly, we have started digitalization of certificates of origin – and hope Bangladesh will do so too, including SAFTA, to expedite & simplify your exports to India.
(iii) Coordinated measures: Case in point - the Maitree bridge. Built & inaugurated by the two Prime Ministers in 2021 March – yet to be put into use as we await establishment of customs & immigration facilities at Ramgarh.
(iv) New rail & road linkage facilities for goods handling.
(b) Innovative moves:
(i) Allow a wide selection of routes to be unified for 2 way trade. Just as we seek greater access to and from Bangladesh’s port, Inland Water and rail and road routes, we also offer Bangladesh options to use our ports, railways and airports to export goods to and from India to the world. This includes reusing the empty containers that carry in Indian goods by rail.
(ii) Simplify the process by which we clear and pursue the establishment of border infrastructure especially for trade – LPAI & LPAB should be authorized to clear each other’s border infrastructure projects up to the zero line.
(iii) Limited internet connecting customs on both sides to simplifying clearances for vehicles & present railways.
(iv) Multimodal framework - road & rail; inland water & rail/ road; also coastal shipping.
(v) Allow the private sector a role in developing bonded warehouses, container rail & trade handling infrastructure.
(c) Trade Centric & People Centric Measures
Leveraging the support of ADB (SASEC Project); WB and JICA’s matching initiatives to create
- Fibre Optic broadband infrastructure at LPs.
- Better approach roads, electric- parking management & better parking.
- Passenger facilitation services at key point crossings.
- Off-site warehouses & new bonded warehouses away from border & close to consumption centers to reduce revenue on LPs.
- Early finalization of protocols for cargo & projects under BBIN & allow their connectivity.
Let me summarize the overall point: trade and economic activity, even investment, rely heavily on good logistics systems without this the region’s ambitions for employment generating growth cannot be achieved. Therefore, the role of LPAB in particular, but also Ministry of shipping and all its associated departments will be of great significance in delivering on the dream of both a Shonar Bangla and a developed, connected, prosperous and progressive region that will create what my PM Sh. Narendra Modi had said, a stage where India and Bangladesh can make progress together – not one leading or following, but together pashe pashe or side by side as equal partners – as Rafiq Saheb said – Aek hi Paribarer Shodosho.
Let me at this point specifically emphasize a corollary point also trade, that is in Hon’ble Chairman’s very useful presentation. Trade today is constrained most of all by import regulatory restrictions and there is empirical proof of this - last year trade increased - doubled for Bangladesh and it increased for India too.
To put it differently, as West Bengal study showed, it is cheaper and faster for Bangladesh and India to ship goods to Germany than to each other.
- As we are gathered here to celebrate the 21st Foundation Ceremony of Bangladesh Land Port Authority, I once again congratulate Bangladesh Land Port Authority and its dedicated team members manning Bangladesh land ports. Continuous prosperity for the people of both our countries is intricately linked to the consistent and efficient function of our Land Port Authorities. I am certain that in the coming years, their role will only grow in importance and scale under the dynamic leadership of our Minister Khalid Mehmud Chowdhury & with the support of Hon’ble Secretary Mostafa Kamal.