We are grateful to the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh for accepting and convening the second South Asia Maritime and Logistics Forum here in Dhaka. I would like to express my most sincere gratitude to H.E. Sheikh Hasina, MP, Hon’ble Prime Minister, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, for her gracious presence in this opening ceremony. My special thanks to all the honourable ministers for gracing the occasion.
The First South Asia Maritime and Logistics Forum was organised in September 2017. It was for the first time stakeholders of maritime sector of South Asian countries had an opportunity to come together on to one platform to discuss key issues related to intra-regional trade and maritime connectivity. Following the success of that inaugural conference, it was agreed that forum should be convened again. With Ministry of Shipping, Government of Bangladesh offering to host the meeting, all of us could meet again in Dhaka.
Bangladesh has become one of Asia’s most remarkable success stories in recent years with GDP growth for FY2017-18 being the highest with 7.86 per cent. Bangladesh is making a lot of investment into strengthening maritime and logistics infrastructure, as the country is flexing its capacity to use its natural geographic location and transform into a “gateway and connectivity hub” between South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Though South Asia holds a huge potential, unfortunately it remains untapped. South Asia’s intra-regional trade is the lowest in the world restricting the region’s economic promise. There is an urgent need for the nations to focus on business and economic integration with each other. If the existing trade barriers are eliminated facilitating regulated trade flow, South Asia’s regional trade volume could grow from the existing $23 billion to $67 billion.
Another challenge we face in this region is that many South Asian countries trade on better terms with distant economies than with their own neighbors.
South Asia’s key challenges include high trade costs and investment restrictions, limited transport connectivity, logistics and regulatory impediments, policy decisions governed by politics rather than economics, lack of trust initiatives, relative asymmetry in size among South Asian nations and volatile geo-political environment and security concerns. These challenges can be overcome only by more business and economic integration.
A classic example of intra-regional coordination is coastal shipping between Bangladesh and India. The recent decision of Government of Bangladesh to allow use of Chattogram and Mongla Ports for the movement of goods to and from India is commendable. This will create fastest possible access to a port from northeast India and will help increase connectivity in that region.
Container shipping lines and port operators in India are seeking permission for transshipment of Bangladesh cargo from Indian ports. This would reduce long delays and significant additional costs. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are also looking at coastal shipping options. A recent survey among stakeholders in Bangladesh has revealed the below mentioned priorities before government and private sector to build an efficient and smart supply chain:
- Urgent need to increase port capacities to meet the growing demand of cargo
- Port connectivity to be established for seamless and smooth movement of cargo – either through road or rail
- Simplified customs regulations: Faster processes need to be implemented. Documentation to be simplified. Technology to be engaged which can be a game changer.
- Favourable government policies to create better ecosystem and ease of doing business
- Mechanization of cargo handling at ports and terminals to improve the productivity and efficiency
- Deploying digital technologies like online platforms, Block chain, Cloud systems Forum such as this provides a valuable opportunity for investors, service providers, end customers, industry specialists and decisionmakers to share experiences. I am grateful to the many experts from government and industry who have come to share their knowledge at this forum.