Along with developing communication infrastructure, increasing the capacity of various ports and commercial hubs in the country is essential to realising the full potential of trade between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal, said economists and private sector experts.
"There is no alternative to strengthening Bangladesh's trade ties with South Asian countries to realise its macroeconomic potential. For this, not only communication infrastructure, but also the overall management capacity of different ports and trade centres of Bangladesh needs to be significantly increased," said Dr Atiur Rahman, former governor of Bangladesh Bank at a workshop on the "Role of Private Sector in Strengthening Regional Connection Infrastructure" on Thursday.
"Aside from the government, the country's private sector has been involved in this management to a lesser extent and it is time to think about ways of increasing its involvement," he said at the programme organised by non-government research organisation Unnayan Shamannay at Biswa Sahitya Kendra in the capital.
In the panel discussion at the workshop, Md Munir Chowdhury, national trade expert at the commerce ministry, said regional trade in the country's formal sector is 5%, while in the informal sector it is over 25%, but the government is not doing much in the informal sector.
"We have to further develop the communication system within our own country and internationally to increase regional trade. Moreover, the service sector needs to be coordinated and the private sector has to enhance its relationship with the people," he added.
Mohammad Belal Hossain, general manager of Panama Sonamasjid Port Link Limited, said the testing facilities at the ports are so poor that imported vegetables have to be brought to Dhaka for tests. So, those vegetables stay at the port for as many as 34 days. During that time, the traders have to pay a parking fee for the goods-carrying vehicles, while many of the imported goods perish.
A syndicate of truck owners and middlemen also charges importers excessive rent for carrying goods from the ports to different parts of the country. All this contributes to an increase in local market prices so the authorities concerned should take steps to improve facilities at the ports to ensure smooth trading, he added.
Economists and experts participating in the discussions emphasised quality-testing of goods arriving at the ports, their overall management, and applying a public-private partnership model in port construction.
Participants in the second part of the workshop discussed the scope of private sector participation in port management, the accountability of private sector organisations involved in that, and the challenges of large-scale investment in the private sector.
Bangladesh Land Port Authority Assistant Director Md Anisur Rahman, Chief Operating Officer of Summit Alliance Port Ltd, Md Abdul Hakim, and a number of public and private stakeholders involved in the management of regional connectivity infrastructure also spoke at the programme.