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WB to give $1bn for regional trade, connectivity in South Asia

  • Staff Correspondent
  • 30 June, 2022 12:00 AM
  • Print news

The World Bank (WB) has approved $1.03 billion financing to help improve regional trade in Bangladesh and Nepal by reducing trade and transport costs and transit time along the regional corridors.

The approval was given by the WB board of directors at the World Bank headquarters in Washington DC on Tuesday, said a statement of WB’s Dhaka office on Wednesday. 

The “Accelerating Transport and Trade Connectivity in Eastern South Asia (ACCESS) Programme Phase 1” will help the respective governments address the key barriers to regional trade ─ manual and paper-based trade processes, inadequate transport and trade infrastructure, and restrictive trade and transport regulations and processes.

The Phase 1 of the programme will help replace lengthy manual and paper-based trade processes with digitized automated solutions in Bangladesh and Nepal.

The automation will enable faster border crossing times and install electronic tracking of truck entry and exit, electronic queuing, and smart parking.

The programme will also help improve selected road corridors and upgrade key land ports and custom infrastructure, while ensuring green and climate-resilient construction.           This will help the integration of landlocked Nepal and Bhutan with the gateway countries of Bangladesh and India.

“Regional trade offers enormous untapped potential for the countries of South Asia. Today, regional trade accounts for only 5 percent of South Asia’s total trade, while in East Asia it accounts for 50 percent,” said Hartwig Schafer, World Bank Vice President for South Asia.

“South Asia can boost economic growth significantly and create opportunities for millions of people by increasing regional trade and connectivity,” he added.

The $753.45 million ACCESS Project in Bangladesh will upgrade the 43 km two-lane Sylhet-Charkai-Sheola road to a climate-resilient four-lane road, connecting the Sheola Land Port with the Dhaka-Sylhet Highway. This will cut down travel time by 30 percent.

The project will support digital systems, infrastructure, and more streamlined processes at Benapole, Bhomra, and Burimari land ports, the three largest land ports in Bangladesh handling approximately 80 percent of land-based trade.

It will also support the modernization of the Chattogram customs house which handles 90 percent of all import/export declarations in Bangladesh.

“While the trade between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal grew six times from 2015 to 2019, the unexploited potential for regional trade is estimated at 93 percent for Bangladesh,” said Mercy Tembon, World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan.

“The project will help Bangladesh improve regional trade and transport and automation of processes will build resilience to crises like the COVID-19 pandemic,” she added.

The $275 million ACCESS Project in Nepal will upgrade the 69 km two-lane Butwal-Gorusinghe-Chanauta road, along the East-West Highway, to a climate-resilient four-lane highway. This is expected to reduce travel time by 30 percent, thus providing better access to India’s western seaports.

The project will construct market areas along the highway with dedicated spaces for women entrepreneurs and traders to ensure that women can benefit from the enhanced economic opportunities. It will also support digital systems and capacity building to enhance trade and customs processes in particular at Birgunj and Bhairahawa border points.

The programme will also help advance Bangladesh’s and Nepal’s preparedness and subsequent implementation of the Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA). In the second phase, the programme will include Bhutan.

“A key focus of the ACCESS programme is to support solutions that can most effectively reduce dwell times at trade gateways, which is vital to lowering trade costs. This entails greater border cooperation and coordination within and between countries, cutting down the physical inspection of goods, and simplifying regulations and processes,” said Erik Nora, World Bank Task Team Leader of the programme.”