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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

24 April 2024

Excellency, Mr. Indra Mani Pandey, Secretary-General of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC),

Excellencies, distinguished officials, participants, ladies and gentlemen,

Connectivity is a key enabler of sustainable development. Better connectivity facilitates the free movement of people and goods, access to services, formation of supply and value chains, and efficiency of markets.

We see across the Asia-Pacific region how economic prosperity and social development follow investments in connectivity.

High-level commitments among the Governments of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal have vitalized investments across BBIN corridors. Just in the past year, we have seen important developments.  

Along the India-Bangladesh border, the inauguration of the Agartala-Akhaura rail link and a new land port at Subroom will boost bilateral trade and offer transit trade for Bhutan and Nepal.  

The bilateral Transit Trade Agreement between India and Nepal was renewed and updated, improving Nepal’s access to designated Indian sea ports by road, rail and waterways. 

Last month, Bhutan and Bangladesh signed a groundbreaking Memorandum of Understanding to establish a Bhutanese Special Economic Zone in Bangladesh.

During the past year, ESCAP was joined by the BIMSTEC Secretariat and the World Bank to visit border crossings along northeast India and Bangladesh to understand the on-the-ground realities of transport and trade connectivity.

We then convened multi-stakeholder meetings in Shillong and Dawki Land Port in collaboration with the authorities from Meghalaya and the Land Port Authority of India.

A rich exchange ensued among government officials and economic actors from BBIN countries and development partners, including the BIMSTEC Secretariat.

We saw opportunities for trade that could benefit communities and businesses in landlocked and disadvantaged areas, which is critical for ensuring that no one is left behind in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

We also recognized the gaps and challenges to unleash that potential, including several non-infrastructural bottlenecks, non-tariff barriers and gender issues.

Solutions require coordinated efforts at local and national levels and between countries. We are encouraged to see some steps taken by governments to address these bottlenecks.               

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Digitization is revolutionizing trade and transport. Digital platforms simplify trade processes, electronic cargo tracking systems allow real-time transport planning and automation using artificial intelligence overhauls the logistics sector.

The BBIN countries have embraced digitization and are in various stages of progress with respect to implementing paperless trade and single-window systems.

The UN Global Surveys on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation reveal that India achieved a 100 per cent implementation rate for paperless trade measures in 2023.

Bangladesh tripled paperless trade measures to 66.6 per cent last year from 22.2 per cent in 2015. Similar improvements have been noted for Bhutan and Nepal.

For BBIN connectivity, what remains is the implementation of cross-border paperless trade measures. This entails interoperability of national digital trade platforms and mechanisms for data exchanges.

It implies changes in customs and other border control practices such as cargo inspection, product testing, quarantine and clearance in line with new systems.

We can offer support to the BBIN countries in pursuing digital innovations for better interconnectivity.   

The Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific is dedicated to accelerating trade digitalization. A rich reserve of knowledge materials and other resources for aiding its implementation has been created since its adoption by ESCAP member States in 2016.

Similarly, the Regional Action Programme on Sustainable Transport Development (2022-2026) gives specific thrust to the digital transformation of the transport sector in the Asia-Pacific region.

We will be privileged to assist the BBIN countries by utilizing these resources and expertise and to facilitate subregional cooperation.

We look forward to working with the BIMSTEC Secretariat and other development partners and regional organizations, who share a common vision for enhanced connectivity in the subregion.   

Thank you.

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