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Volume:8, Number:01
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Business & Finance 1
THIS WEEK

The Belt and Road Initiative

The landlocked and underdeveloped countries in Asia are eagerly looking for the scope of transit road connectivity to augment trade and eradicate poverty

| Monowar Hossain |

The necessity of overland communication network for promotion and expansion of trade between the countries and encompassing greater segment of population in the development activities to attain inclusive growth are, in fact, encouraging the least developed and landlocked countries in the Asian continent to get included in the Belt and Road Initiative of China. The initiative promises opening of more communication routes to near and far neighbors for augmenting respective trade.

Nearly one-third of the countries in Asia are landlocked and underdeveloped, to say the least, and they are eagerly looking for the scope of transit road connectivity for augmenting their trade for economic development for eradication of poverty at a faster pace. Due to realization of the advantage of having multiple connectivity (road, rail, fiber optic line, etc.) for economic development, countries in dire necessity had gathered on the podium for the initiative in Beijing last month and were elated to hear the pledges of the host country that several more billion dollars would be released to build and develop more roads to improve communication in Asia and Africa. Bangladesh, though economically better off compared to many other countries in Asia, has also manifested its intention to be a partner in the initiative to expand its trade with its near neighbors mainly Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, and China through land routes.

Bangladesh's trade transactions with Nepal and Bhutan through land routes (through India) are already in operation, but the volume of operation is far below the expectation. The transaction with Myanmar is very small through land route because of dilapidated and worn out condition of roads connecting Bangladesh with the main arteries of Myanmar. Although the two countries are having the Bay of Bengal coastline in the absence of shipping service, the high potential market remains far from reaching. Huge market in China for raw materials from Bangladesh also remained unexplored due to the long circuitous sea route and absence of road connectivity. Every year, China exports trillions of dollars worth of goods to Bangladesh and imports in terms of billions. By any count, the market potential for raw goods is huge and The Belt and Road Initiative The landlocked and underdeveloped countries in Asia are eagerly looking for the scope of transit road connectivity to augment trade and eradicate poverty a land route to China will also facilitate reaching of Bangladesh's finished products to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. This is the point driving the countries in the mainland south-east Asia and Bangladesh to come under the One Belt One Road initiative, this was the impression of an expert with ESCAP working on the prospect of having trade transaction through land routes. The cost of sea-borne trade is lesser than that it is involved in transaction through overland routes. But the great advantage in these two modes is the transport-time saved in trucking. It is far less than the time consumed in sea route. The value of the time saved is well above the cost involved in shipment through sea routes in the southeast Asia area, he said.

The road network in Bangladesh (said to be of highest density in the world) has been playing a significant role in attaining inclusive growth. But the road in use for shipment to and from India, Nepal, and Bhutan are in need of further widening and strengthening. Road connectivity with Myanmar is pathetic. For trade transactions with India, an alternative to road, railway is in service. But both of these two modes of communication need further strengthening and modernization. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has committed to improve these networks. The strengthening of inter-country road connectivity between India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh is in the cards of ADB. Building of road from Bangladesh to China covering India and Myanmar with assistance from ADB, ESCAP, and other development partners is under consideration for quite a long time. But unfortunately, none of these two projects could materialize the dream of quick trade transaction as yet since the implementation could not make any headway due to reservations expressed by some countries involved in the connectivity projects.

Multilateral projects progress slows down if the parties involved do not resolve their problems among them quickly or do not hold sincere and positive approach toward a joint initiative. Compared to these two projects, another connectivity project in the western part of the subcontinent, CPEC, between China and Pakistan is progressing at an unbelievably fast pace, as this involves two countries and both of them hold positive approach toward the implementation. The Belt and Road initiative is an opportunity for the underdeveloped and landlocked countries in the region to gain entry-exit route for increasing trade for their improving economies. If for any reservation the opportunity is missed or remains unutilized in time, scope for being on the huge track of the global train of growth will also go away. Geo-economics should get preference over geopolitics for the betterment of the people in backward countries having the prospect of being strong economies with a little support, commented a communication expert working for ESCAP.

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