Bangladesh unrest hits cross-border trade with India

Continuous political turmoil in Bangladesh is leaving a burnt hit in cross-border trade with neighbouring India.

Trade through the Petrapole-Benapole route — that accounts for over 50 percent of the bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh — has been badly hit in the last few days. Bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh stands at $5.5 billion.

The political turmoil in Bangladesh, which began with a strike call on November 30, entered its fifth day on Wednesday.

borderhaat-112Unconfirmed estimates from traders suggest that the average trade loss is approximately between Rs 100 crore and Rs 400 crore a day; while more than 1,200 trucks are stuck on the Indian side of the land customs station, located 100 km north of Kolkata.

“Trade with Bangladesh has come to a complete standstill, especially through the Petrapole border. The impact is to the tune of a few hundred crore,” S.K. Sinha, Commissioner Customs, told Business Line.

According to the customs department officials, at least 400 trucks — carrying both perishable and non-perishables — pass through Petrapole each day. Bangladesh is India’s largest trade partner in the SAARC region comprising India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

For Bangladesh, the border with West Bengal is important as it gives access to the large mainland Indian market. Petrapole is its biggest access point to that market. It has better access to NH 2 (Kolkata-Delhi) and NH 6 (West Bengal-Gujarat) highways.

India primarily exports raw cotton, agri-commodities, vehicles and auto parts, cement and steel to Bangladesh, while the imports include apparels, jute, fish and other food stuff.

Other routes

In fact, trade through three other border routes in Bengal — Ghojadanga in North 24 Parganas, Mahadipur in Malda and Hili in Dakshin Dinajpur — have also come to a standstill.

Mahadipur is the second most important land port after Petrapole. With approximately 200 trucks passing by every day, an average impact on trade here is to the tune of Rs 60 crore a day.

The situation is similar in the congested border town of Hili where 100-odd trucks pass every day. Trade via Ghojadanga, too, has been impacted. “We are hopeful of trade resuming from Saturday. The strike call is for six days and Friday being a holiday there will be no trade either,” a trader said.

According to Sinha, joint meetings are being carried out primarily to ensure smooth passage of goods once the strike is withdrawn. “Even when trade resumes it will take at least 24 – 48 hours to clear the backlog,” he said.