The motor vehicle agreement among Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal or BBIN will soon come into effect to establish a seamless movement of passengers and cargo vehicles across the territories, Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque said yesterday.
The deal, signed by the transport and communications ministers of BBIN in the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu in June last year, was supposed to be operational from January this year. But it has been delayed due to a hold-up in ratification by the Bhutanese government.
“The BBIN corridor is coming into reality very soon. The approval from Bhutan is needed to make the agreement operational,” said Haque, presenting a keynote paper at the quarterly luncheon meeting of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Dhaka.
“BBIN was formed for multimodal connectivity among the four South Asian nations. I hope sub-regional businesses will get a boost if the transportation of goods and passengers start under the agreement.”
Under the deal, any member nation of BBIN will be allowed to use the roads of other members to transport goods and passengers paying fees and charges, which are to be fixed later.
“The BBIN nations agreed to pay the fees and charges to use the corridor,” Haque said. He did not specify the fees to be charged for using the corridor. The BBIN identified 30 transport corridors to be transformed into economic corridors.
The deal will potentially increase intraregional trade within South Asia by almost 60 percent and with the rest of the world by over 30 percent, according to a joint statement that was issued after signing of the agreement.
The infrastructure costs for the four-nation road connectivity would require an estimated $8 billion. Each government will be responsible for completing the infrastructures in its territory with its own fund and with support from donor agencies.
A number of these corridors, which also include bridges, have already either been improved or are under construction.
The corridors, associated routes and their costs have been determined based on an analysis of patterns of regional and international trade. The analysis was done by the Asian Development Bank, which has been pushing for regional connectivity for several years now.
While Haque was speaking on economic diplomacy and connectivity, he also focused on the potential of Bangladesh if another important corridor -- Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar or BCIM -- starts formal operations.
“This year, India will host the next BCIM meeting while Bangladesh hosted its second meeting at Cox's Bazar last year,” he said. The BCIM will be able to connect Bangladesh between two growth centres -- China and India -- for its geographical location.
Bangladesh can enjoy economic benefits from Myanmar if the Rohingya problem of Rakhine State is resolved, he said.
Ruling out security concerns, Haque said the security of Bangladesh will be stronger if all the regional and sub-regional countries are connected by sharing their respective corridors.
“Yes, we have some risks and challenges such as the impacts of climate change, terrorism and violent extremism, and limitations in adopting to rapid economic changes as well as evolving interregional norms, ethics, and practices,” Haque said.
MCCI President Syed Nasim Manzur said history reveals that for centuries, the Silk Route, stretching across deserts, steppes and mountains, linked the imperial dynasties of China with Europe.
Chinese rulers used the thoroughfares to expand their power and influence deep into Asia, said Manzur, adding that the current Chinese leadership is seriously considering undertaking a gigantic project to re-create those ancient trade routes and the political and economic clout that came with them.
“Termed 'One Belt, One Road' China's plan is to construct roads, railways, ports, and other infrastructures across Asia and beyond to bind its economy more tightly to the rest of the world,” Manzur said.
“As we have come to know, this ambitious project has two main components. One arm, the Silk Route Economic Belt, will pass from China to Europe through Central Asia, and the other, the 21st Century Maritime Silk Route, will better link China to Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa along vital sea lanes,” Manzur said.
The project has been included in China's latest five-year plan, released in late October 2015, and has become a favourite subject of top leaders, who sell it as an international initiative to foster peace and prosperity, he added.
“This mega project has numerous economic and diplomatic implications. Bangladesh's geo-strategic location offers immense opportunities, provided we can strongly play our role in global economic diplomacy.”
If Bangladesh is to benefit, Bangladeshi business must not be left behind in recognising and seizing some of the spoils and hence business needs to be involved in this process, he said.
Besides, the existing agreements and projects are already bolstering successful regional cooperation and coordination, offering opportunities to reap the benefits of connectivity, according to Manzur.