Extensive multi-modal connectivity is imperative to beat Covid-induced economic vulnerabilities in the critical sub-region of South Asia — Bangladesh-BhutanIndia-Nepal.
“The Covid-induced supply side shocks can fast spills over to the demand side
resulting in large-scale unemployment and associated developmental challenges. Eastern South Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal are particularly vulnerable as they are yet to experience the peak of the pandemic,” said Pradeep Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International, a global public policy think- and action-tank promoting consumer welfare
through trade, regulations and governance.
“The need of the hour is large-scale job creation and infrastructure is one such
sector where much more focus is required. The present state of connectivity in
the BBIN sub-region and the future need of its multi-modal connectivity are
to be looked at in this context.”
He was speaking at the inaugural session of a series of webinars by the CUTS
International to be held in this month on ‘creating an enabling political
economy discourse for multi-modal connectivity in the BBIN sub-region”.
More than 150 participants from dierent parts of the region took part in it.
Reminding the audience that ‘connectivity’ in the BBIN sub-region has gained
signicant political momentum in recent years, he up-fronted that
“irrespective of legitimate concerns regarding the protocols for the regulations
of the movements of passenger, personal and cargo vehicles, the singing of the
BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement in 2015 is instrumental in shaping a
consensus for creating an enabling environment for seamless connectivity”.
Presenting his views on the occasion, Duncan Overeld, Deputy Head of Asia
The Covid-induced supply side shocks can fast spills over to the demand side resulting in largescale unemployment and associated
Regional Team of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, said that “Trade and connectivity can help reducing poverty and ensure stability. The BBIN group of countries can gain substantially from infrastructure connectivity initiatives. For that to happen, long-term and deep engagements are required based on relationships and trust leading to mutual benets.”
“In a post-Covid world, connectivity needs to be looked at much more
holistically, not just in respect to physical infrastructure. Bio-security should
become an integral part of cross-border trade. Going forward, ‘safe trade’
initiatives should be undertaken so as to balance economic and health needs
of grassroots stakeholders associated with cross-border trade.”
Kuancheng Huang, Senior Transport Specialist of the Asian Development
Bank who was also part of webinar, noted, “Greater and high quality
connectivity among the economies is a pre-condition for ADB’s operational
priorities such as reducing poverty, enhancing gender equality. With a right
emphasis on connectivity, we expect the BBIN group of countries to grow
further to improve the quality of life.”
“As part of ADB’s South Asian Subregional Economic Cooperation initiative,
trade and transport infrastructure are being developed in all these countries to
enable them to do trade in a more cost-eective manner. The geographical
location will help them accessing global value chains in an eective and
eicient manner,” he added.
Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director of CUTS International, made a
presentation on the current landscape and possible future of multi-modal
connectivity in the BBIN sub-region.
He highlighted why there is greater scope for land-locked countries like Nepal
and Bhutan to increase their access to sea by use of as well as integrating with
existing and developing inter-modal and multi-modal infrastructure between
India and Bangladesh, among others.
In this context, he underlined the importance of the India-Bangladesh
Coastal Shipping Agreement and their Protocol on Inland Water Transit and
Trade. Taking the example of Jogighopa multi-modal logistics park, he argued
that they should be developed in a manner to facilitate the freight movements
in both economical and environment-friendly manner.
He added that innovative initiatives with optimal regulations including largescale digitisation of the means of connectivity should be given priority. As an
example, he argued for the creation of an elevated corridor over the Tetulia
Upazila of Bangladesh linking North Dinajpur and Jaipaiguri districts of West
Bengal, which can also act as a feeder road of the Asian Highway Network.
Other than reducing travel distance by about 85 kilometres, this four
kilometres long proposed corridor will act as an alternate to the Siliguri
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‘Chicken’s Neck’ Corridor linking mainland India with its Northeast part. The
Northeast India will become more secure in respect to traditional as well as
non-traditional aspects of security. A surface corridor – in Tinbigha area of the
Cooch Behar district of West Bengal – linking one part of Bangladesh with
another via India already exists.
The webinar underlined the need for advocating for an optimal set of
regulations to further reduce the time and cost of doing cross-border trade.
Secondly, it was highlighted that connectivity should not just be looked at in
respect to physical infrastructure but in a more holistic manner by taking into
account anking measures to address non-tari barriers on the ground.
It was also argued that they have to be taken into account while
understanding ground realities encompassing political economy factors,
particularly those related to possible job losses due to the introduction of
innovative measures such as o-border customs clearance.
This webinar was organised as part of a project on “multi-modal connectivity
in the BBIN sub-region” supported under the Asia Regional Trade and
Connectivity Programme of UK’s Department for International Development.
Drawing expertise from the Transport Division of the Asian Development
Bank being a ‘knowledge partner’, it will be implemented by CUTS
International in partnership with Unnayan Shamannay, Bangladesh, Bhutan
Media and Communications Institute and Nepal Economic Forum.
Among other objectives, the project will identify investment opportunities for
fostering multi-modal connectivity developments in the BBIN sub-region. It
will also explore how existing and future connectivity initiatives can be better
leveraged to strengthen transport and trade linkages between South and
Southeast Asia, which is essential for creating new hubs for global value
The next webinar will be held on July 14 where speakers from this region and
multilateral bodies will speak on the importance of drawing lessons from
successful connectivity initiatives in other regions of Asia and the Pacic, and
how they can be adapted to the BBIN sub-region.