The merits of using our geographical advantage
There are some countries in the world that make a living mainly by providing services. At a time, when Bangladesh’s export products are limited to a few items, new ways to earn foreign currency should be seriously and promptly considered by the government and the policy planners. Foreign investments in Bangladesh are far less compared to need. But these investments could increase substantially in a short period of time-perhaps-if successive government did not just sit on the above possibilities but had been proactive in exploring them.
The foreign companies that started knocking at our door to make the investments in these service industries became discouraged from the indecision and lack of vision and expertise on the part of Bangladesh authorities in these matters. However, things have started to change under the present government of Bangladesh and its moves need to be appreciated greater overcoming unrealistic prejudices and mind-sets.
The seven north eastern Indian states and neighbouring Nepal and Bhutan are landlocked entities. They are presently using the far away Calcutta port for their external trade. But not only Calcutta port is distant from them but it also suffers from inadequate handling capacities. This port is also found rather unserviceable on a large scale because of the falling level of the Hooghly channel and other natural disadvantages.
Our Chittagong port, by comparison, is much better situated to handle the trade of the seven Indian states, Nepal and Bhutan. It can be accessed relatively faster and cheaper by them. In fact, by allowing external users to use the Chittagong port , the regional economy can experience an uplift and Bangladesh can gain by obtaining good amounts from the users as service fees on a regular basis for the use of its port facilities. Again, the wider use of Chittagong port will require expansion of its present capacities. Again, this expansion can be achieved free of costs from foreign investments but these investments will have spin-offs in the from of creation of jobs and economic activities locally.
Not only Chittagong port, Bangladesh can set up more ports in the vicinity of Chittagong to service the entire region comprising the seven Indian states, Nepal and Bhutan. It can set up even a deep sea port in the Bay of Bengal. All of these port facilities will make Bangladesh a sort of entreport for the entire region comprising the Indian states, Nepal and Bhutan. In that case, the pressure will ease on Bangladesh’s limited port facilities to service the region while it would earn huge amounts of foreign currencies from the regional users by playing the role of the regional entreport.
Foreign investments will play a vital role in the establishment of these new port facilities and spare Bangladesh the need to make its own investments. Investments to create the new ports will generate jobs and income locally. The maintenance and operation of the infrastructures will create regular jobs for a large number of Bangladeshis. Besides, along with the establishment of new ports or increase in port capacities and the resultant expansion in regional trade and economic activities, services such as shipping, insurance, banking, etc., will need to expand. The expansions will have to occur in the territories of Bangladesh. Thus, the Bangladesh economy should benefit also from these multiplier effects.
The Asian highway is now planned to extend from Bangladesh through Myanmar to south-east Asian countries. Bangladesh is strategically situated like a gateway between south and south-east Asia. With the establishment of the Asian highway and its pivotal location between the two regions, Bangladesh’s commercial significance could much increase as a staging area of sorts for trade between the two regions. Increased possibilities are there for more service industries to flourish in Bangladesh based on inter-regional trade. Our planners should start planning and acting in advance to tap these opportunities.
There is apprehension in some quarters in Bangladesh that implementation of the above plans could threaten Bangladesh’s sovereignty. This is really outdated thinking because stepped up transnational activities to facilitate trade and industry is the feature of the times, worldwide. Countries that can grasp quickly the merit of proposals for transnational activities quickly and act on them swiftly can expect to survive and prosper in the economic sense .More than threatening our sovereignty , activities along the above lines are more likely to create India’s economic dependence on Bangladesh and the same can be delicately used as a leverage by Bangladesh to persuade India to act favourably with it in relation to water-sharing of rivers and other issues.