July 14, 2020
“In order to restore multi-modal connectivity in the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal sub-region, we have to re-discover and re-orient ourselves, and go back to the pre as well as British era roots to revive our old notions about the sub-region as being water-linked, with contiguous linkages with railways and roads,” said Tariq Karim, Former High Commissioner of Bangladesh to India and Advisor to the World Bank for Regional Integration, South Asia Region.
He explained this as an analogy to human anatomy and stated that for the sub-region the heart of prosperity lies in considering rivers as arteries, railways as veins and roads as capillaries while planning multi-modal dimension linking one with another.
Supporting that, Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International added that “for doing so, it is essential for these countries to accommodate their differences by appreciating the value of less than full reciprocity.”
“Even more, we have to think of connectivity as a regional matter just like food security in Southern Africa is considered as a regional concern. It will help us to achieve peace, security, and stability to the people of this sub-region while marching towards prosperity through seamless and resilient access to each other.”
“Also there is a significant gap in the discourse between the top level policy-making and the grassroots, which is needed to be bridged in a language understandable by the common people”, he added.
They were speaking at the second session of a series of webinars being held in this month for ‘creating an enabling political economy discourse for multi-modal connectivity in the BBIN sub-region”. More than 100 participants from different parts of the region and outside took part in it.
While making the presentation, Kuancheng Huang, Senior Transport Specialist, Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, Asian Development Bank, emphasised that “there is a tremendous scope for the BBIN sub-region in regard to drawing from mutual knowledge sharing, financial, technical and operational expertise from infrastructure connectivity initiatives in Central Asia as well as the Greater Mekong Sub-region”.
“The regional mechanisms there are employed to address challenges to greater country ownership, facilitate larger financing for regional projects, strengthen institutional mechanisms as well as well as create opportunities for private sector participation and investments,” he stated.
In this context, he mentioned that there exists opportunities such as multi-modal routes connecting port gateways with land-locked countries of Bhutan, Nepal and India’s northeast region, improving maritime connectivity, developing multi-country tourism circuits, among others. COVID-19 has also increased opportunities to leverage digital technology under the “New Normal”, he expressed.
However, he added that the development and management of transport and logistics projects of cross border dimensions should essentially augment networks of economic corridors improving both intra and inter-regional links between South Asia and Southeast Asia, respectively.
“In doing so, not just they will require efforts to reflect the changing environment, increase private sector participation, patience and persistence, more time and effort, and more intensive policy dialogue but consistent follow up for policy and regulatory reforms, as well as building mutually acceptable cost and benefit sharing mechanisms, among others, are also needed.”
According to Mustafizur Rahman, Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue, Bangladesh, “in view of Bangladesh’s imminent graduation from being a least developed country, transport connectivity is what Bangladesh should think of from the standpoint of transforming her comparative advantages into competitive advantages.”
“For this to happen, transforming transport corridors into economic corridors to enable seamless flows of trade, investment, logistics, people, is essential. It will require a lot of coordination and sequencing to build trust and momentum for institutions that help create enabling mechanisms including with regard to dispute settlement.”
“Given underlying political differences, ground issues, commercial issues, market economy factors are of critical importance in shaping larger political economy consensus for mutli-modal connectivity in the sub-region”, exhorted Sreeradha Datta, Centre Head, Neighbourhood Studies and Senior Fellow, Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi.
Yubak Dangol, Director, Nepal Intermodal Transport Development Board said that “in regard to the availability of inter-modal transport infrastructure between India and Nepal, there is huge scope for Nepal to increase her competitiveness. Nepal can do so by increasing access, for example, to the National Waterway-1 of India, which is the Ganges River.”
Underling the importance of furthering the engagement of the private sector with this initiative, Julian Michael Bevis, Senior Director, Group Relations, South Asia, A P Moller Maersk, said that “multi-modal connectivity particularly through waterways will not only require new investments but more importantly a candid and fair discussion followed by concrete regulatory reforms that can enhance market access opportunities.”
Talking about the ‘Sambandh’ project, Constantino Xavier, Fellow, Foreign Policy, Brookings India, argued about “the importance of collective actions in shaping political and economic consensus for sub-regional connectivity.”
The participants agreed that in order to shape a seamless yet resilient, transport infrastructure connectivity, particularly in a post-COVID world, the BBIN countries need to cross-fertilise useful learnings from contiguous Southeast Asian countries to their east and extended Central Asian countries to the west.
It will make it easier for them to foster advanced and predictable transport infrastructure eco-system for sustainable and seamless exchange of goods and services as well movement of people across all infrastructure nodes, with adequate bio-security measures.
Furthermore, in a post-COVID scenario, facilitating innovative and alternative physical and digital infrastructure investments opportunities that are also environmentally and ecologically inclusive is the need of the hour for national governments of the sub-region.
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 chains.
The next webinar will be held on 21st July, 2020, where speakers from this region and multilateral bodies will speak on infrastructure and development needs for multi-modal connectivity in the BBIN-sub region in a post-COVID world.
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