Lack of greater SA connectivity a lapse in political trust between nations

Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. Dipu Moni

Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. Dipu Moni

Top-level political decision and building mutual trust are important to establish greater connectivity in South Asia to boost trade and investment and benefit the countries on a win-win situation, experts and business leaders observed at a seminar Sunday as the Foreign Minister agreed on the benefits of trans-border communications, reports UNB.

Foreign Minister Dr. Dipu Moni, who spoke as chief guest at the seminar on ”South Asian Connectivity: Bangladesh Perspective” said a better connectivity in South Asia would accelerate economic growth and bring about social progress.

She suggested collective engagement in South Asia as the most effective tool for creating new opportunities and promoting linkages for attaining better standards of living for the people.

Dipu Moni said Bangladesh for its strategic location between South Asia and Southeast Asia could be a “bridge of prosperity” between the two regions by developing an effective transportation network to the benefit of all.

“Bangladesh”s two seaports have a great potential to be a regional hub of development that will also substantially contribute towards overall economic development of Bangladesh,” the Foreign Minister told her audience.

Dipu Moni regretted it is disappointing that even though 25 years had passed off after the formation of SAARC, intra-SAARC exports still remained at a mere 5 percent of total exports in the region.

In comparison, intra-regional trade is nearly 52 percent of total trade in NAFTA, 55 percent in the European Union and 21.4 percent in the neighbouring ASEAN.

She mentioned lack of infrastructure for connectivity, high transport costs and small number of corridors and customs and immigration ports as impediment to boosting trade. Quoting a study, Dipu said that to sustain 8% regional growth rate of GDP in the whole of South Asia, every year 108 billion dollars would be needed for infrastructure development. A lot of investment is needed in infrastructure development without any delay for the development and the growth of the regional economy.

“To make the trade among South Asian countries more competitive, all custom stations, especially the land custom stations, need to be efficient,” she said.

The Foreign Minister said various kinds of para-tariff and non-tariff barriers need to be removed to increase the intra-region trade. She hoped that as the countries of South Asia are realizing the benefits of connectivity, in the same spirit they would do away with these avoidable barriers to trade to take advantage of increased connectivity.

She said a network is needed for sharing energy while effective connectivity for agriculture and food security and tourism. She also stressed air connectivity as many countries of South Asia have no direct air links.

Bangladesh-India Friendship Society president and ex-Vice-chancellor of Dhaka University Dr AK Azad Chowdhury presided over the seminar at Hotel Sonargaon, which was also addressed by Indian High Commissioner Pinak Ranjan Chakravorty.

Economist Abul Barkat, Adviser of the Planning Ministry Dr M Rahmatullah and Dr Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, president of Bangladesh Economic Association, made their presentations at the seminar. FBCCI president Annisul Haque, ex-Secretary Margub Murshed and Dr Amina Mohsin of Dhaka University participated in discussion.

Pinak Ranjan Chakravorty stressed enhancing railway connectivity for the transport of goods and passengers, saying that India is ready to develop Bangladesh”s railway structure. He welcomed as positive Bangladesh government’s decision to connect the country with the Asian Highway and suggested a new bus route-Shilong-Sylhet-Dhaka. He said, Connectivity will ensure peace and prosperity in the region.”

On controversy over India”s construction of Tipaimukh dam on the common river Barak, he said it is a hydroelectric multipurpose project to produce electricity and to some extent, control floods.

“The proposed dam is not for irrigation,” he said, in the wake of an outcry in different circles in Bangladesh about the dam on the common river that prompted the government to form a parliamentary team for a spot visit. The High Commissioner informed the function that data and statistics of the Tipamukh dam have been supplied to the Bangladesh government and said, “India welcomes the all-party parliamentary team’s visit to the site.”

Pinak said some quarters here are spreading “false propaganda” about the dam to score their political mileages and confuse the people. He disagreed with the “unsubstantiated” view of “so-called experts” about seismic danger in the event of construction of the barrage. The Indian envoy said New Delhi is committed to always consulting Bangladesh and committed to working closely with the new government in Dhaka. But he deplored that some elements are trying to disrupt the good relations between the two countries. He said, “India is ready to walk more than halfway to meet certain requirements of Bangladesh.”

Economist Abul Barkat in his presentation said only 2 percent transit trade is conducted within the sub-region whereas 98 percent extra-sub-regional in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal. He thinks that regional connectivity can increase trade by lowering transaction costs between partners. Quoting a study he said economies with geographical contiguity could potentially benefit from higher trade provided trade and “transport barriers are removed through a regional transit agreement”.

Barkat said Bangladesh has the potential to become a transport and transshipment centre for the sub-region because it borders India and Myanmar and is in close proximity to the landlocked Bhutan and Nepal.

He dispelled phobias against transit that national security and sovereignty of the state would be under threat and there would be big brotherly attitude of powerful partner, risk of spreading terrorism and high maintenance cost of transit road.

The economist said cross-border infrastructure alone would not facilitate movement of goods and vehicles between countries if non-physical impediments (stability, laws, tax etc) are not removed. He suggested strong political commitments, conducive mindset and people’s awareness about benefit to be in place for regional connectivity.
Dr M Rahmatullah, Adviser of the Planning Ministry, said railway links between Bangladesh and India may be established as a first step towards the aspired connectivity.

FBBCI president Annisul Huq in his observation said while intra-NAPTA trade is 52 %, EU 55 %, ASEAN 21.4 %, the intra-trade within SAARC region is only 02 %.

The business leader prescribed greater freedom of access, saying that lack of trust among the countries in the region stands in the way of boosting the intra-region trade. He urged India to “take the lead to build up the trust”.

Dr Kholiquzzaman in his presentation stressed regional water management for generating power and increasing food production to alleviate poverty in South Asia. He said Bangladesh can import hydropower from Nepal and Bhutan through regional cooperation. He though that bureaucrats and experts cannot resolve the problems of water management for mutual benefit until “decision at top political level” is arrived at.

[Source – News Today – 22 June, 2009]

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