The ongoing Rohingya crisis has impacted Bangladesh's exports to Myanmar as operations at the Teknaf land port, the main gateway to the neighbour, have almost come to a halt for the influx of refugees, businessmen said.
Since August 2017, more than half a million Rohingyas have arrived at Cox's Bazar from the northern Rakhine province of Myanmar after troops and Buddhist mobs burned down their villages and killed civilians.
Between the months of July and December last year, exports to Myanmar declined 12.08 percent year-on-year to $10.04 million, according to data from the Export Promotion Bureau.
Over the last two months, trade through Teknaf land port declined to less than 10 percent, according to SM Nurul Hoque, president of the Bangladesh Myanmar Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
But both the countries' business communities want continuation of trade even during these delicate times, he said, while citing the case of India and Pakistan.
Trade worth few billions of dollars takes place between India and Pakistan despite a fragile relationship.
“Businessmen of both sides are waiting for restoration of normalcy so that trade takes place again in full swing.”
Myanmar is one of the best destinations for Bangladesh for sourcing basic commodities and timber.
It can also be a good export destination for Bangladesh's steel, cement and garment items as the neighbouring country's economy is opening up after 50 years of military regime, he said.
Besides, some important trade deals that were supposed to be inked between Bangladesh and Myanmar are also left hanging in the air because of the crisis. Hoque cited the river protocol as one of the deals that were due to be signed as negotiations were at the final stage before the crisis took over.
Once the river protocol agreement is signed, goods can be transported through the river ways -- a quicker and a cheaper alternative. Six Bangladeshi river ports like Sadarghat in Dhaka and Narayanganj river port have been identified as the port of calls for business between the two countries.
Moreover, since mother vessels cannot enter Bangladesh due to the absence of deep-sea ports, the feeder vessels can carry the goods straight from Yangon to the river ports and to the premier Chittagong port in four hours.
“I am hopeful that normalcy between Bangladesh and Myanmar will be restored soon as the governments of both the countries are negotiating extensively to resolve the crisis,” Hoque said. Echoing with the views of Hoque, Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said business between the two countries should not be halted in anyway.
Many people would become unemployed if the business is halted for any reason between the two countries.
The freight forwarders, loaders and unloaders, the transport business and ultimately production in factories would be hampered if normalcy is not restored, the FBCCI chief said. “Both Bangladesh and Myanmar should have a common understanding in both political and economic issues so that the business runs well. We have to exist together.”
In the absence of a warm diplomatic relationship, business does not run well, he said. Business through the Teknaf land port is slowly resuming as the influx of Rohingyas from Myanmar to Bangladesh has come down over the last one month, said an official of Teknaf land port asking not to be named. Now, rice, timber, fish and chutney are coming through the land part from Myanmar, he said.