India and Bangladesh have taken their bilateral efforts up a notch to exploit the opportunity to develop their waterways for faster and cheaper ~ not to mention more environmentally friendly ~ modes of transport. New Delhi has already announced its intention to fill the “infrastructure gaps” in waterway development by commissioning more water terminals to tap the potential of cruise tourism as well as cargo and passenger transport. passengers. According to an Indian official, policy issues related to inland waterways are being addressed for smoother and transparent trade transactions between India and Bangladesh. The main driver for the two countries, as they become major trading partners in the South Asian region, would be a reduction in transport costs in the future.
According to the Inland Waterways Authority of India, the country has a total of 14,500 kilometers of waterways; currently, 19 waterways are operational for the movement of goods and 25 for the movement of passengers. The chairman of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority recently called India and Bangladesh “natural partners”. Over the past two decades, the volume of trade between nations has increased by 40%. Now, apart from the measures taken to reduce logistics expenses and further reduce the transit time between India and Bangladesh, the provision of cruise facilities to promote tourism is also on the agenda. The more than 8,400 kilometers of waterways in Bangladesh could be used for transporting and distributing goods between Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Bhutan, anchoring trade relations between these South Asian neighbors as ‘they expand maritime trade in Southeast Asia.
Technology, as always, is key. Experts say that India needs a unified digital platform for its national waterways that increases the infrastructure of inland waterways which will lead to increased use of the waterways. A unified digital platform is also expected to result in real-time information availability, greater interaction with stakeholders, increased traffic on inland waterways, safer travel, better communications and increased public-private investments. The smooth movement of goods through the waterways will also create job opportunities and open the international market to local products through cost-effective transportation. With 54 shared rivers, India and Bangladesh have immense potential to harness the trade and economic benefits of inland waterways.
Extending roads and opening new ports would also result in valuable trade routes being made accessible to small producers and marginalized communities along shared rivers. Cross-border river trade between the two countries is governed by the Protocol on Inland Waters Transit and Trade (PIWTT), first signed in 1972 with addenda in 2018 and 2020 to include new ports of call and routes. Nothing prevents further amendments to the Protocol as New Delhi and Dhaka raise the bar.