Assam's advantage in Bhutan-Bangladesh trade

Bangladesh opening six new ports of call for using its waterways and seaports by Bhutan is good news for Assam
Assam's advantage in Bhutan-Bangladesh trade

Bangladesh opening six new ports of call for using its waterways and seaports by Bhutan is good news for Assam as it will make the Brahmaputra River route a growing hub of trade and commerce between India's two neighbouring countries. The development of multimodal transport facilities along the Brahmaputra will attract more Bhutanese traders to make optimal use of the improved connectivity through Assam for the expansion of their export-import business. The amended Standard Operating Procedure signed by Bangladesh and Bhutan on September 15 in Dhaka on the use of inland waterways designates Aricha, Chilmari, Sirajganj, Mongla, Chittagong and Payra Port as the new ports of call for use by Bhutan. Prior to the signing of this SOP, there was only one port of call in Bangladesh at Narayanganji in Dhaka designated for loading and unloading by Bhutan due to which participation of private players in Bhutan in using the waterways for export-import trade was limited. The new ports of call will provide alternative routes and modes of transport for Bhutanese traders. Bhutan's Department of Trade states that apart from promoting, facilitating, expanding and deepening trade relations, the amended SOP with new ports of call will also complement the Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) between the two countries which came into effect on July 1. The PTA provides duty-free market access to the Bangladesh market on 16 news products in Bhutan's export basket in addition to the existing list of 18 products and duty-free market access to the Bhutan market to 10 new products in Bangladesh's export basket in addition to the existing list of 90 products. The PTA also accords each other's products imported into their territory, treatment no less favourable than that accorded to like domestic products in respect of internal taxation and in respect of all other domestic laws and regulations affecting their sale, purchase, transportation, distribution or use. After India, Bangladesh is the second largest trade partner of Bhutan. The Himalayan kingdom primarily exports boulders, cardamom, oranges, pebbles and gravels, limestone, dolomite, ferroalloys, gypsum, semi-finished products of iron or nonalloy steel, silicon carbide etc., to Bangladesh. The National Export Strategy, 2022 of Bhutan brings to light that the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the country's export by 33%. While India accounts for 75% of Bhutan's total export, the export to Bangladesh has increased from 6% in 2011 to almost 20% in 2019 which explains the two countries focusing on establishing a new bilateral mechanism for the required ecosystem to deepen bilateral trade. The export strategy document, developed by the UNDP with the support of the Department of Trade, Ministry of Economic Affairs of Bhutan, points out that the lack of bulk transport facilities to export markets adds to the cost of products as there is no railway link or inland waterway. The inland waterway through Brahmaputra riverine system based on bilateral agreement between Bhutan and India and Bhutan and Bangladesh provides "an alternative mode of bulk transport that will facilitate the movement of goods to Bangladesh and international markets through Mongla and Chittagong seaports," it states and adds that the operationalization of new transit points at Jogighopa and Pandu and the development of facilities both on the India and Bangladesh side, along with border control facilities, will pave the way for broadening the trade volume. India's first multimodal logistics park under construction at Jogighopa and the development Inland Water Terminal at Pandu Port as a multimodal river port of the Brahmaputra will facilitate Bhutanese traders to use the waterway in India and Bangladesh to expand their export and import business. Operationalization of Dry Ports being constructed at Gelephuand Nganglam and improved facilities at SamdrupJongkhar in Bhutan connecting Hatisar Land Custom Station (LCS), Pathsala town and Darranga Mela LCS in Assam will drastically reduce the time and cost for Bhutanese exporters and importers because of proximities of Hatisar to Jogighopa (98 km) and Darranga Mela to Pandu (90 km). Bhutan's use of Dhubri port of the Brahmaputra to export boulder to Bangladesh through the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol route reduced travel time by about eight hours and transportation cost by about 30% which explain the advantage the new ports of call opened by Bangladesh with improved access to Jogighopa and Pandu ports in Assam will bring to Bhutanese traders. Currently, about 75% of Bhutan's export business takes place through Jaigaon LCS in West Bengal which is being upgraded to an Integrated Check Post even though Assam shares the longest stretch of the India-Bhutan border. Increasing export and import business through Assam will spur economic activities generating huge income and employment avenues, and it is in the interest of the state, the development of infrastructure at Dhubri, Jogighopa and Pandu ports are expedited, and navigable depth is maintained. Assam's strategic advantage in bilateral trade between Bhutan and Bangladesh needs to be harnessed for unlocking its own economic potential.

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