|Published : 16 Sep 2016, 22:29:25 | Updated : 16 Sep 2016, 22:31:49|
Imperatives for structured transhipment arrangement
The Prime Minister's recent directive to the shipping ministry to work in a concerted way for facilitating the use of the country's south-western seaport at Mongla by India, Nepal and Bhutan holds out good prospects for augmenting its revenue earnings. For this to happen, the work has to proceed in the way she has assessed the potential of this transhipment facility. Agreeing to a proposal of the Khulna Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), the PM has spelt out quite clearly the stance of the government on this matter. The Mongla Port Authority, as the FE reported last week, has welcomed this in expectation that it will enable the port to boost its operational earnings. This is more so as the potential of the country's second seaport remains now largely underutilised. The existing operation of the Mongla port at a level far below its capability for handling export and import cargoes has led to mounting pressure on the Chittagong Port.
The Mongla port has otherwise a unique geographical location, being close to two landlocked South Asia countries -- Nepal and Bhutan. Bangladesh has two main seaports -- one at Chittagong and the other at Mongla. If regional connectivity and transhipment facility can be ensured to the hinterland countries and territories including the access to Bangladesh's two seaports, this will certainly open up tremendous opportunities for it to offer transhipment services cost-effectively, as a recent study said. Extension of such facilities will, of course, require India's full concurrence, not a half-hearted one. That will itself provide a welcome synergy for attracting investments, local, regional and international, for upgrade and development of Bangladesh's maritime ports with modern and improved infrastructure-related support facilities. Regional connectivity will then become operationally meaningful with its benefits accruing to the vast millions in this sub-region. The scope for connectivity will then be widened from bilateral confines to the multilateral in a win-win situation for all. This will also help dispel suspicion, on real or perceived grounds, about the benefits of only bilateral transhipment with its major advantages going largely in favour of one large neighbour.
On its part, Bangladesh has long-persisting huge trade imbalance with India. This might have economic logic but it is also undesirable that such a trade deficit -- that has been 'unfairly' increasing over time, instead of showing any declining trend -- tends to generate more heat than anything else in the Indo-Bangladesh bilateral relationship. This leads to some unwelcome strains and does not help create a congenial environment for expansion and deepening of economic relationship between the two countries that are critically important for ensuring equitable benefits of friendship and partnership between the two sides. On its part, New Delhi is overtly concerned over its growing trade imbalance against China. In this context, India, being the South Asia's largest economy, is certainly not expected to disregard 'sensitivity' to, and ignore 'sensibility' of trade and other unresolved issues with an economically disadvantaged country like that of Bangladesh. Hence, it needs to be more pro-active about regionalisation of connectivity.
Transhipment arrangements through wider sub-regional connectivity and extension of the same on a still wider extent can be a catalyst for inclusive benefits for all concerned. Surely, Bangladesh does enjoy some advantages because of its geographical location to serve as a conduit for providing connectivity in this sub-region, nay the region on a larger scale. In this connection, India's cooperation with Bangladesh to operationalise transhipment and connectivity arrangements on a structured, not ad hoc, basis will be essential. All concerned will hope that India could do all the needful for the purpose, as its bilateral relationship with Bangladesh is now quite warm and excellent.