Bangladesh in Regional Trade and Connectivity: A Politico-Economic Assessment

Centre for Governance Studies(CGS), a non-profit autonomous think-tank, organized a seminar on “Bangladesh in Regional Trade And Connectivity: A Politico-Economic Assessment” on 19 August 2017 at the auditorium of Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies(BIISS). The seminar was addressed by politicians, academics, former diplomats, economists, business personnel, political analysts, civil society and others. Economist and also Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Governance Studies (CGS) M Shahidul Islam presented the keynote paper Focusing on various aspects of regional trade and connectivity. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) being initiated by China, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Japan’s Big-B, (Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt) and others initiatives were highlighted in the seminar. The seminar was addressed by Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed as chief guest and former BNP minister Chowdhury Kamal Ibne Yusuf as a guest of honour. CGS Chairman Prof Dr. M Ataur Rahman chaired the seminar, and CGS Executive Director Zillur Rahman hosted it.

Issues of regional trade and connectivity were addressed in the seminar. The speakers of the seminar also expressed their concern about regional connectivity and trade which need pragmatic planning, friendly relations, and political consensus. They also gave importance to the regional connectivity of SAARC countries to mitigate the trade deficit. Commerce Minister of Bangladesh Tofail Ahmed expressed his concern about the trade deficit with India, though he criticized the criticism of others as they overlooked the trade imbalance among China and the USA. He added that Bangladeshi businessmen can export to India, one of the biggest markets in Asia, but they only look into the west. He also said, “We have to be liberal, we can’t be isolated. We will no longer be an LDC by 2021, marking the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh.” Political observer Manjur Ahmed Chowdhury opined that Bangladesh lacked in bargaining ability so she needs connectivity not with India, Bhutan, and Nepal, but with East Asian countries. Barrister RumeenFarhana, Assistant Secretary of International Affairs of BNP, questioned the transit facilities of India granted by Bangladesh which cut down 1100kms from Kolkata to Agartala and lessened 70% of transportation cost. She also opined that the preconditions to trade, connectivity, and inclusive development were sincere friendly relations and expressed concern about the border killings, the barbed wire fencing, the tariff barriers, the steadily widening trade gap and the unilateral withdrawal of river waters. Former NBR Chairman Dr. Muhammed Abdul Mazid suggested a Pan Asian Stock Exchange which India had obstructed initiatives and he also added that balanced development was required to improve trade relations. Chowdhury Kamal Ibne Yusuf, former Minister for Food and Disaster Management, said that Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIMIC) and Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) need to act to mitigate the imbalance in trade and commerce. He believed that geographically ‘Silk-Road’ is very important for Bangladesh. A. S. M. AbdurRab, the founder secretary-general of the JatiyaSamajtantrik Dal, pointed out that regional economic alliance should be made to escalation trade. Zafrullah Chowdhury, public health activist and the founder of Gonoshasthaya Kendra, expressed his concern on internal politics, good-governance which are essential for a country to increase regional trade.

Among others, President of JSD ASM Abdur Rob, Chairman of Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) Ambassador MunshiFayes Ahmed, Ambassador Ashfaqur Rahman, Editor of the Financial Express Moazzem Hossain, former FBCCI President Mir Nasir Hossain, International Development Specialist Enam Ahmed Chaudhury, former President of Bangladesh Chamber of Industry Shahedul Islam Helal, former President of DCCI Asif Ibrahim, Banker Mamun Rashid, Vice Chairman of CGS Dr. Manjur Ahmed Chowdhury and Barrister Ahsan Habib Bhuiyan of Bangladesh Supreme Court spoke at the seminar.

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