Bangladesh experts debate Dhaka-Delhi effort for connectivity

DHAKA - A cross-section of opinion makers in Bangladesh have welcomed a Dhaka-Delhi resolve to improve connectivity among the South Asian neighbours, but have expressed reservations on many counts.

They see the development as a window of opportunity to improve economic ties with landlocked Bhutan and Nepal, but also lament the loss of a prospective market in India’s north-eastern region.
Although the proposed connectivity with Nepal and Bhutan is nothing new, this time it has come from India as a formal proposal, a trade expert said.
Past pacts that Dhaka signed to establish connectivity with Nepal and Bhutan have not worked due to ‘barriers’ in Indian territory, The Daily Star quoted experts as saying.
But experts accept that Bangladesh’s own infrastructure to reach out to the neighbours in the north and the east is poor and needs to be improved, the newspaper report said Sunday.
Bangladeshi business leaders and economists blame India for lack of economic interaction and wants the larger neighbour to “change its mindset”.
The breakthroughs made in the past week at the India-Bangladesh foreign minister level talks on Bangladesh’s connectivity with Nepal and Bhutan will not work if infrastructure constraints and non-tariff barriers in India are not removed, experts and businessmen told the newspaper.
If everything works properly, Bangladesh might be able to capture new markets in Nepal, Bhutan and northeast India and revive the Mongla Port, they said.
Dhaka has in the past offered its Chittagong and other river ports to the northern neighbours.
Economists said Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan are yet to boost trade among themselves, despite persistent agreements, mainly because of the barriers within Indian territory.
“We need to discuss the connectivity issue under a comprehensive framework involving Bhutan and Nepal,” said Mustafizur Rahman, executive director of Centre for Policy Dialogue.
Mustafa K. Mujeri, director general of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, said Bangladesh has some sort of connectivity with Nepal and Bhutan, but it is not in operation because of infrastructure constraints and “non-cooperation of India”.
President of Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry Abdul Hafiz Chowdhury and former president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry Mir Nasir Hossain echoed the view.
Last Thursday, Bangladesh and India issued a joint statement after a four-day foreign minister level meeting where India agreed to facilitate Nepal-Bangladesh and Bhutan-Bangladesh connectivity.
Economists and businessmen reacted to this cautiously.
India will get some connectivity with its northeastern states, starting with Tripura. Dhaka has agreed to let India use the Ashuganj river port for goods transport to Tripura in northeastern India.
Dhaka has said this is a one-time exception to help India transport heavy equipment for a power project in Tripura. An agreement would be signed in May next year.
Dhaka is worried about the adverse trade balance that is widening by the year. The blame, again, is on India for imposing non-tariff barriers (NTBs).
Despite it being India’s neighbour, only one percent of Indian imports are from Bangladesh whereas nearly 20 percent of Bangladesh’s imports come from India.
With this “one-sided business”, Bangladeshi trade experts and businessmen are in doubt whether the Indian offer of connectivity with Nepal and Bhutan would work.