India, Bangladesh Expanded River Trade Opens Up Opportunities For Locals

by GoNews Desk 3 years ago Views 2446

India, Bangladesh Expanded River Trade Opens Up Op
By - Bipul Chatterjee; Veena Vidyadharan; Jyotiraj Patra/

An addendum to an existing agreement could open up valuable trade routes for small producers and marginalized communities along shared rivers

India and Bangladesh recently signed the second addendum to the Protocol of Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT) at the end of May, a step welcomed by traders in both countries. The agreement adds an additional route between Sonamura, in India’s Tripura state, and Daudkandi in Bangladesh to the existing eight protocol routes – along which vessels can travel across international borders. It also declares Jogigopha in India’s Assam state and Bahadurabad, Bangladesh, as new ports of call along the Kolkata- Silghat and Karimganj- Silghat routes.

With 54 shared rivers India and Bangladesh have significant possibilities to harness the trade and economic benefits of inland waterways. The extension of the routes and new ports should open up the waterways to smaller traders bringing agricultural goods and other materials between Bangladesh and India’s landlocked northeastern states.

Cross border river trade between the two countries is governed by the PIWTT, first signed in 1972. The subsequent addendums in 2018 and 2020 have included new ports of call and routes. During 2018-2019 India exported about 2.4 million tonnes of cargo to Bangladesh through Protocol Routes. Out of this, 97% is comprised of fly ash – toxic residue left over from burning coal – and the rest included steel cargo, steel coil/rail and stone chips.

Waterways Lower Costs

Shipping goods by river can save time and money. Since Dhubri became a port of call in 2018 along the Kolkata-Silghat protocol route, waterways have become a preferred route for boulder exporters from Bhutan to Bangladesh.

“The opening of trade route via waterways between Dhubri, India and Chilmari, Bangladesh saves us about INR 700 per tonne (USD 9),” said Atowar Rahman, a stone trader based in Dhubri, Assam while speaking to researchers at CUTS International during field research on transboundary waterways. Rahman has been exporting boulders to Bangladesh since 2014 through Golakganj near Dhubri. Procedural delays at the border post, poor road conditions, load restrictions and delays add to the cost of doing trade via the land route.

Others are now eager to trade boulders, stones and other non-perishable commodities via the region’s vast waterways. There is a downside. The new business opportunities have encouraged people to collect boulders, mostly by dredging rivers and banks. Weak enforcement of regulations in this regard has led to indiscriminate mining with expected impact on river ecosystem in long term.

Trilateral Cooperation

Traders and export associations in Bhutan and Assam voiced their demand to declare Jogigopha as a Port of Call during the field research conducted by CUTS International. These discussions were conducted as part of a project on Inclusive Spaces for Trans-boundary Trade via Waterways and Ease of Doing Business under a regional programme called Trans-boundary Rivers of South Asia (TROSA), which is managed by Oxfam and supported by the Government of Sweden.

Opening For Smaller Players

The decision to allow shallow draft mechanised vessels along protocol routes has opened up several opportunities for small players. Waste from cotton and other textiles from Bangladesh are used widely in Assam and other Northeastern states of India to produce mattresses and blankets. Currently the cotton waste is imported via land through Mahendraganj (Meghalaya) and Mankachar (Assam). This involves loading/unloading at several locations, adding to the cost of transportation significantly.

The cotton waste importers in Dhubri have asked whether empty barges coming to carry stones from Dhubri can bring cotton waste on its onward journey. Such opportunities need to be further explored so that cross-border trade via waterways becomes more profitable.

How Locals Can Benefit

Apart from traders and exporters, CUTS researchers talked with producer communities and women’s groups in Dhubri, South Salmara-Mankachar districts of Assam and adjoining areas of the Garo Hills in Meghalaya. The idea was to explore the prospects of using waterways for local as well as cross-border trade.

For instance, cashew, areca nut, ginger and pineapples are produced in plenty in the Garo Hills. Among them, ginger and areca nut are exported to Bangladesh via Mankachar. Women in the hills and in the char (riverine islands) areas are involved in the value chains of these agricultural products, mostly in processing.

At present, there are no business links with cashew traders in Bangladesh. For export purposes the raw material has to be procured in bulk for processing, which will, in turn, provide more employment opportunities to local women.

Similarly, Rowmari and Chilmari are two upazillas (sub-divisions) in Kurigram district of Bangladesh, close to the Indian border. The land is very fertile and people in these areas grow rice, ground nut, maize, potato, pulses and tobacco. Most of these products are sold locally and no one has explored the potential to sell on the Indian side yet. A major limitation to cross-border trade is low volume of production and lack of suitable vessels to ply the protocol routes.

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