India-Bangladesh cross-border trade received a major fillip with the introduction of a new coastal shipping service between the two neighboring nations.
The service, branded the Prantik Bangladesh India Xpress, or Prantik BIX, connects Kolkata to Chittagong, Bangladesh’s main cargo gateway.
“Industry leaders have opined that this direct service will benefit shippers from all over India, who would be able to avail of faster transit times and low cost when compared to the present mode of containerized cargo transportation to Chittagong via Singapore, Colombo and Port Kelang transshipment hubs,” an official statement said.
The move comes as the two governments prepare to sign an agreement on “standard operating procedures” for regular coastal connectivity in the route.
“The vessel —Rodella — (deployed in the service) has been constructed in such a way that even when fully loaded, it can call the inland ports of Bangladesh like Mongla, Narayanganj, Ashuganj, as well as a seaport like Chittagong.”
Two-way trade between India and Bangladesh in fiscal year 2013-14, which ended in March 2014, totaled $6.6 billion, with exports from India estimated at $6.1 billion. Local trade associations, including the Confederation of Indian Industry, earlier projected that bilateral trade could double to $10 billion by 2018 if trading irritants such as non-tariff barriers and infrastructure related-issues were addressed.
In 2013, the two governments also reached a memorandum of understanding as a preliminary step toward establishing a rail link from India’s northeastern city of Agartala to Akhaura in Bangladesh. “The project has just begun with land acquisition being taken up and its completion date has not been finalized,” a recent government of India press release said. “This rail link project is expected to facilitate trade and people-to-people exchanges between India and Bangladesh.”