Banglabandh prospect unfurled
Another new overland trade point has been opened between Bangladesh and India on 22 January at Banglabandh in Bangladesh corresponding to Phulbari in India. This sees the fulfillment of a longstanding demand of businessmen from both the countries.
Considering the importance that geography lends to this point one hopes that this would open a vista of new economic and trade relationship, not only between the two neighbours but also between other regional countries. Given also that this point was opened on September 1, 1997 to facilitate Nepal-Bangladesh transit, but since then trade between the two countries has been going on at a low key, we would hope that the new arrangement will reinvigorate trade and transit between Bangladesh and Nepal as well as between Bangladesh and Bhutan.
The skewed balance of trade has been vexing problem between Bangladesh and India, and whereas Bangladesh had opened its market to unhindered access to foreign goods with the significant liberalisation of trade since the mid-nineties (the time of the BNP first tenure in office) Indian export benefited greatly by it also. Unfortunately, Bangladeshi goods have had to encounter all sorts of tariff and non-tariff barriers from India, which have not been removed completely as yet in spite of repeated assurances.
One should not overlook the fact that economic and trade issues, particularly between Bangladesh and India, tend to influence not only internal politics in Bangladesh but also affect the bilateral relationship. In that context, we consider the statement of the Indian Finance Minister, assuring Bangladesh of freeing another 60 items for export to India, during the ceremony at the borders on 22 January, a positive step on the part of India towards addressing the huge bilateral trade imbalance. One would hope that the pledge would be implemented soon given that being the larger neighbour, with an overwhelmingly larger economy, India must take the lead role in ensuring that Bangladesh's trade is not overwhelmed by it.
One must take into account the huge potential of the Banglabandh-Phulbari which perhaps will assume more importance in the long run than the currently largest land port, Benapole-Petrapole, because of its potential to become an international trade and transit point, given its geographical location. Apart from trade, with the assurance that immigration facilities will be in place in the next three months on the Indian side, travel between the two countries will become easier too, particularly to southern part of Northeast India.
Let the potential of the new trading point be maximised for the larger economic benefits of the region, Bangladesh in particular.