Political resolve imperative to realise potential of BBIN & Indo-Pacific connectivity

Economic times, March 23, 2021

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, India, through its Vaccine Maitri and international COVAX initiatives, has taken a lead to reinvigorate the global efforts for economic recovery and normalisation. In its Northern and Eastern neighbourhood, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal are among other countries who are prominent beneficiaries of India’s vaccine outreach.

Their own efforts in testing, social distancing, mask wearing, quarantine, sanitising along with administration of cross-border trade in a bio-safe manner during the pandemic have helped them to improve their resilience towards economic recovery. Connectivity should be an important pillar to achieve that in an inclusive and sustainable manner. BBIN can also feed into India’s connectivity initiatives in Myanmar-Thailand & Indo-Pacific region.

“Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) group of countries should now fast track the implementation of measures such asthe BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement. While Bhutan is yet to ratify the MVA, the country has given its consent to the other three to operationalise the MVA among the three countries. One possible method of operationalising the same is through aMemorandum of Understanding with option for Bhutan to join later” said Bipul Chatterjee, Executive Director, CUTS International, leading public policy body.

He was speaking at a Webinar on ‘BBIN MVA: Will it be an instrument of sustainable, inclusive and resilient economic transformation?’ It was organised by CUTS International and discussed two CUTS publications, which were on the potential of BBIN MVA in economic recovery in the sub-region and on linking waterways with industrial and logistics Clusters.

“The MVA is a stepping stone for a holistic and larger multimodal transport connectivity framework in the BBIN sub-region and accession to the TIR convention, which is a global customs transit system, can bolster such efforts,” he argued.

“As the sub-region is experiencing diversification of transport and transit options while multi-modal logistics parks are created, the implementation of the MVA can spur revival of economic activities in the sub-region,” said Absar Alam, Assistant Professor (Economics), MKS College, LN Mithila University, Darbhanga.

“Towards that, finalising and operationalising the protocols to the MVA, enabling newly developed integrated check posts to facilitate its smooth implementation, addressing technical issues, for example, repair of vehicles and insurance by developing or adopting already developed mechanisms will be vital.”

“With that, the MVA can catalyse the transport corridors intoeconomic corridors in the sub-region linking both production and consumption networks. Furthermore, intermodal logistics with computerisation and containerisation will improve the development of such corridors,” he noted.

Syed Monowar Hussain, Former Secretary, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority and Arun Roy, Former Chief Engineer, Inland Waterways Authority of India stated that “while efforts in the sub-region for revival of inland waterways are evident, it is time to link industrial and logistics centres of the BBIN countries to make inland waterways transport a vibrant mode of transport”.

“For that serious planning and revival of IWT facilities such as fairways, terminals and vessels are required besides linking them further with industrial hubs around inland waterways and international sea trade routes.”

“Not only will that underpin the formation of integrated multi-modal economic corridors within the BBIN sub-region but also help employment generation for the local communities and reduce the impact of multiple handling costs and procedural delays,” they argued.

According to Ataur Rahman, Secretary General, International Chamber of Commerce– Bangladesh Chapter, “theinfrastructure for the effective BBIN implementation is more or less in place but the awareness among the relevant stakeholders including the exporters, importers, freight forwarders, truckers and transportation companies is sub-optimal.”

“Also, ratifying the TIR convention, in particular, becomes an extremely crucial step to that will further help operationalisingthe MVA”.

Fahmida Khatun, Executive Director, Centre for Policy Dialogue underlined that “the MVA is going to benefit the sub-region immensely; however, there are some background quirks that need to be taken into account to take it forward.”

“The issues such as financial needs, resource mobilisation, standardisation and harmonisation of documents, coordination at the border, custom requirements and electronic data interchange, security are also an integral part of the BBIN MVA implementation and need to be addressed”.

“Furthermore, in order to make an agreement economically beneficial and successful, it needs to catalyse triangulation of investment, trade, and transport connectivity. It has to be a comprehensive and integrated venture.”

“There is a lack of political commitment that the region in addition to mistrust and tensions which overpowers the economic gains of cooperation. In order to convince the political leaders, it is important to show them how it is beneficial economically, without being complacent to other challenges in the way,” she suggested.

Satish Reddy, Consultant, Regional Cooperation and Trade Facilitation, Regional Cooperation and Operations Coordination Division, Asian Development Bank highlighted that “there are a number of safeguards for addressing stakeholders’ concerns and apprehensions regarding the implementation of the MVA, which the respective stakeholders may not be aware of”.

He also talked about other solutions to operationalise the MVA such as off-border clearance at the hinterland and TIRConvention which can facilitate smooth cross border flow of goods in the sub-region in a multi-modal manner.

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