Currently, Bangladesh cannot export products to a third country using any sea, air and land ports in India. Since Nepal and Bhutan are landlocked, there is no waterway to export products to those countries. Bangladesh can transport goods roadways and airways using land ports and airports of India. Currently, trucks from India and Nepal carry goods to and from Bangladesh borders.
Besides, there is opportunity to expand business with Nepal and Bhutan through railway via Chilahati-Holdibari and Birol borders using transit-transshipment facility of India. There is also opportunity to use the Bagdogra airport near Shiliguri in West Bengal.
If Bangladeshi goods-laden trucks can go to Nepal directly, it will decrease cost, time and hassle
The Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) was signed in 2015, with Bhutan is yet to approve it. Under the agreement, passenger and goods carrying vehicle would move freely. Draft of the protocol and rules on how the vehicles would move has already been prepared and now India’s proposed transit facility will gain momentum on the agreement.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD)'s distinguished fellow professor Mustafizur Rahman said, “The proposal of India has apparently increased the business opportunity with Nepal and Bhutan. Agreement on free movement of vehicles has been signed in 2015. Had the deal come into effect, all countries concerned would have enjoyed its facility together and Bangladeshi trucks carrying products could have gone to Nepal directly using the Indian territory.”
If the new proposal of India takes effect, some more opportunities will be created for Bangladesh in export, such as products were exported via Kolkata airport after container congestion appeared in Dhaka airport, he observed.
Market of Bangladeshi products to expand
The market of Bangladeshi products is being expanded in Nepal and Bhutan. Various companies including Pran-RFL Group, Walton, furniture company Hatil are exporting goods to Nepal. Motorcycle, fridge, television, furniture and foods products are also being export to Nepal while products like juice, drinks and apparels go to Bhutan.
Pran-RFL Group is one of the leading companies exporting goods to Nepal. The company's marketing director Kamruzzaman Kamal told Prothom Alo how much the exporters will be benefited can be said once the detail on the proposal of India is learned. If Bangladeshi goods-laden trucks can go to Nepal directly, it will decrease cost, time and hassle, he said.
Currently, goods needs to unload at Bangladesh border and those are being uploaded to another truck, he said adding, consignment of products are opened repeatedly in border and that may damage quality of products.
PRAN-RFL Group exports goods worth $800,000 to $1 million a month and this export volume will increase if transportation becomes easier through this transit facility proposed by India, Kamruzzaman Kamal said.
Consignment of products needs to arrive first in Banglbandha land port to export those from Bangladesh to Nepal via roadways. After that, trucks from India or Nepal carrying goods cross 34 kilometres to arrive in Panir Tungki border of India and Kakor Bhita border of Nepal. Later, these goods reach Kathmandu or elsewhere of Nepal. Similar process is followed in importing goods from Nepal and lentils are mainly imported from this country.
To export goods to Bhutan, trucks carrying Bangladeshi products go to Burimari land port; then trucks cross 90 kilometres in Indian territory and enter Bhutan via Joyunagar-Phuentsholing border.
According to the Nepal embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh exported goods worth 10.67 billion Nepalese rupees to the Himalayan country and imported products worth 670 million Nepalese rupees in 2020-21 fiscal.
Bangladesh gives transit to India beforehand
Soon after the independence, India had enjoyed freight facility using Bangladesh waterways under the maritime protocol. India was given another maritime transit from Kolkata to Ashuganj river port in 2016, followed by providing the multifaceted transit on land to Agartala via Akhaura. Besides, consignment of goods were transported on trial run using Chattogram and Mongla seaports.
* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna