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World wide - July 4, 2022

Inland Water Transit sets example in trade

India-Bangladesh water trade treaty

Golam Mostafa Jibon: The Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT) existing between Bangladesh and India has set up a unique precedent of affordable eco-friendly trade and commerce in and around the world. It has also strengthened the tie of the relevant countries along with expanding trade and commerce that helping to boost the economy as well.
Such impossible has become possible nowadays with the indefatigable efforts of Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury, State Minister for Shipping and Md. Rafiqul Islam, Director of Marine Safety and Traffic Management of BIWTA.
Due to expansion of the facilities through Maritime Safety and Traffic Management of BIWTA, many important products including fly ash, rice, maize, wheat, stone, clinker, coal, iron machinery and Railway slippers are now being imported to the country from neighboring India, Nepal and Bhutan through the channel, while various products like cement, processed foods, jute and garment items are being exported.
Besides, there is a huge demand for Indian stones in different ongoing mega projects including Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant construction project in Bangladesh. Feeling the matter, necessary customs facilities have been expanded for carrying stones through Godagari/Sultanganj-Maya waterway complying with the protocol route no-5 (Aricha-Rajshahi-Godagari-Sultanganj-Maya-Dhulian) and no-6 (Dhulian-Maya-Sultanganj-Godagari-Rajshahi-Aricha). As a result, construction works of the mega projects have got a rapid pace.
Rafiqul Islam, Director of Marine Safety and Traffic Management at BIWTA said, “Naval route always plays vital role for any country of the world to expand trade and commerce. Like other countries, Bangladesh has huge potentiality over its naval routes in context of expanding trade and commerce worldwide. With the concerted efforts of the Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury, State Minister for Shipping, we are working hard to expand trade and commerce abroad by keeping all the naval routes operational. However, there is needed more proper plans and political will to achieve the goals.”
According to the sources, towards the end of 1950, the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade was signed by the then government of Pakistan and government of India with a view to carry inter-country trade and goods transportation through the both countries’ waterways. There is a reference to the transport of transit goods in the Annual Port and Traffic Report published in 1963 by East Pakistan Inland Water Transport Authority.
It is learnt from the Annual Port and Traffic Report published in 1969-70 that, the goods transportation under the described protocol had been suspended since September 1965 due to the Pak-India war.
Later, following the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the then Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi signed the Bangladesh-India Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade on November 1 in 1972.
Since the period, the protocol has been remained uninterruptedly effective through the bilateral meetings and renewals accordingly.
The duration of the protocol is automatically extended in accordance with the stated agreement.
The BIWTA on behalf of the Government of Bangladesh and the IWAI on behalf of the Government of India acted as appropriate authorities in the Protocol.
Basically, goods transportation activities are conducted here in three-way process respectively-Transit, Inter-country and Transshipment under the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT).
In order to provide trade facilities to Bhutan, the Government of Bangladesh and the Government of Bhutan signed a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in 2018. On the basis of SOP, goods transportation between Bangladesh and Bhutan through Chilmari-Dhubri naval route has been remained active since 2019.
Besides, Bangladesh has taken initiative to expand tourism in the country. With the aim, river transport movement with passengers and tourists was started between Bangladesh and India on March 29 in 2019 according to the SOP.
All the activities of Protocol or Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) are executed through the Overseas Transport Branch of the Marine Safety and Traffic Management of BIWTA.
Marine Safety and Traffic Management of BIWTA basically work to provide approval of voyage permit to the cargo ships and tourist vessels for import or export of goods between Bangladesh-India and Bangladesh-Bhutan. It also issues identity card as entry and exit pass for the sailors engaged in the vessels.
Sometime, correspondence is exchanged through diplomatic channels to expedite the activities of PIWTT, Protocol or SOP.
It is to be mentioned that, enlistment of goods transport companies; organizing various bilateral meetings among the Naval secretaries and joint technical committees of Bangladesh and India; organizing ancillary activities, undertaking initiatives related to sub-regional cooperation; and preparing statistics for carrying out import and export of goods between Bangladesh and India are the main functions of the Marine Safety and Traffic Management of BIWTA under PIWTT.
Notable activities recently performed under PIWTT:
In order to speed up the Bangladesh-India Inland Waterway Trade Protocol and to maintain good relations between Bangladesh and India, MoU and SOP in the name of Passenger and Cruise services on the Costal and Protocol route have been signed to launch passenger shipping services between the two countries.
Meanwhile, one Bangladeshi and three Indian vessels have obtained approval. According to the deals, goods transportation to and from Bhutan has been remained operational through Chilmari and Dhubri route from July 2019. India has already granted permission to 14 vessels for using the Chilmari-Dhubri water channel.
The route no-5 and 6 via Rajshahi-Godagari-Dhulian have remained inoperative since 2004 due to navigability crisis that hampering goods transportation between Bangladesh and India.
As there is a huge potential for transportation of goods through the route, at present the issue of resuming the operational activities of this route was included in the agenda of Bangladesh side and was presented at the 19th meeting of the Standing Committee.
Finally, the 20th meeting of Standing Committee also decided to launch the waterway, as the issue was included in the agenda again.
According to this, Protocol Route no- 5 and 6 were extended to Rajshahi from Aricha through the second amendment of the PIWTT signed on May 20 in 2020.
Later, Rajshahi, Sultanganj and Godagari part of the Bangladesh and Maya in India were declared as the new Port of Call. This route is now helping to bring huge amount of Indian stones, which are being used in different mega development projects of the country including Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant project.
There is a huge demand for Indian stones in the ongoing Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant construction mega project in Bangladesh and other important mega projects, insiders said.
It is revealed that, due to occasional navigability crisis during the dry season, vessels with few drafts are sometime used to transport goods. However, it is being expected to get the voyage permission of the vessel in the Sultanganj/Godagari-Maya part of the Dhulian-Godagari-Rajshahi route soon.
This will also expand protocol trade and fall positive impact on the socio-economic status and development of the two countries.
In addition, a total of 10 new Ports of Call have been added in the both countries. As a result, the total number of Ports of Call has stood at 22.
Increasing of international shipping trade:
Effective steps have been taken to increase maritime trade with India and expand it to Nepal and Bhutan in order to increase and facilitate the trade at the international level. Meanwhile, Sultanganj has also been declared as a new river port to facilitate and expedite import and export between Bangladesh and India. Shipping trade has been introduced between Bangladesh and Bhutan. For this purpose, Chilmari in Kurigram district has also been declared as river port and several development projects at the port are underway.
Export-import of goods through sea route:
With a view to make easier the export and import activities through sea route, Bangladesh-India naval transshipment has been introduced. Valuable stone chips have been transported from Bhutan through the Chilmari (Bangladesh)-Dhubri (India) waterway since 2019. Cement produced in Bangladesh is being exported to the Indian state Tripura using the protocol route Daudkandi-Sonamura from September 9 in 2020. The first consignment of food items was sent to India from Bangladesh by sea on March 16 in 2021.
Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury, State Minister for Shipping said, “The AL government with the patronization of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is trying to improve the country’s economic status with a view to establish a ‘Sonar Bangla’. On her blessing, I have been working hard to expand trade and commerce through naval routes so that country’s economy becomes more vibrant.”

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