Improved connectivity to boost trade between India and Bangladesh: Jahangir Bin Alam, Secretary & CEO, IBCCI

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“There are hundreds of Jahangir Alams in the world but there is only one Jahangir Bin Alam.” This is a quote of Jahangir Bin Alam, the high profile Secretary and CEO of Dhaka-based India-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce & Industry (IBCCI), who was in New Delhi recently. A man with media management background and a self-confessed ardent nationalist, who also had a role to play in Bangladesh’s independence, Jahangir Bin Alam visited TPCI office to discuss further the avenues to boost bilateral trade between the two countries. Excerpts from the interview:

Q:  What, according to you, is the scope of trade between India and Bangladesh?

Jahangir Bin Alam: Bangladesh has been an important trade partner of India since long. The bilateral trade between the two countries touches $9 billion out of which Bangladesh export goods worth $900 million. Rest is India’s export to Bangladesh. But the best is yet to come as there is great scope to boost bilateral trade between the two countries.

Q: What factors can boost this trade further?

Jahangir Bin Alam: The minimum necessary legal and institutional infrastructure for underpinning economic relations has long been in place between India and Bangladesh and the much-needed thrust is now to happen. Recently the Governments of the two countries have made immense progress in improving connectivity, which will help a lot in developing trade further. Till only a sometime back, maximum trade between India and Bangladesh was routed through ports in Singapore. This was a long drawn and costly process and hampered growth of trade. The traditional river waterways that connected various cities in Bangladesh to India were operational till the 1965 India-Pakistan war but got closed thereafter. The recent new thrust to rebuild those waterways and develop new routes to ease connectivity will not only be in the interest of bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh, but will also help Indian mainland connect better with its own North Eastern States.

Q: Are you worried about the trade imbalance between India and Bangladesh, favouring India?

Jahangir Bin Alam: Trade growth depends on our developmental progress. As we grow, our companies would need material, the Government would need machinery. There is no limit to trade. Bangladesh is growing and hence trade is increasing with India and the rest of the world. India being our immediate neighbor with whom we not only share a long border but also culture, traditions and language, we look towards India to import the items we need. There is no cause to worry! What we need, we will import? If we are getting our requirements from India, it is better.

Q: How do you see the neo-regionalism concept that has developed recently and is reflected in the form of SAARC, ASEAN, RCEP, etc.?

Regional cooperation has been there since always. Only new names have been given! People wish to do business where it is easier to reach and profitable. There is always more scope to trade in nearby countries, particularly with neighbours.

Q: What are the chief items of trade between India and Bangladesh, in F&B sector between the two countries?

Jahangir Bin Alam: Bangladesh is importing heavily from India in F&B sector. Total import was worth $332 million in last fiscal, which is 5th in ranking. Onions and shallots are imported in large quantity. Large number of confectionary items is being imported. And there is huge demand for fruits, including oranges, apples, grapes and mangoes. I relish eating Indian mangoes and identify five-six varieties, though the total number of varieties imported is lot more. Thousands of trucks land up each day on Bangladesh borders, carrying fruits from as far as Kashmir.

As far as export from Bangladesh to India is concerned, it mostly exports Ready Made Garments (RMG) to India. This industry has developed to a great extent in Bangladesh, though raw material for RMG is still being sourced from India and neighbouring countries. Recently, some Bangladeshi companies have also invested in India. To cite an example, Ahsan Khan Choudhary, CMD of Pran RFL Group which is the largest food processing company in Bangladesh with tentacles around the world, is a dynamic young man who has set-up manufacturing facilities in North East states. Pran products can be seen on shelves, all through India’s North East. He also has presence chiefly in Europe and North America, and also in Nepal

Q: How do you view TPCI’s attempt to boost trade in F&B sector through Indusfood – the World Food Supermarket?

TPCI is doing a good job through connecting the buyer and the seller. IBCCI has written to all its members, having interests in food & beverage sectors, to seek their interest. I myself will be coming to Indusfood and so will Abdul Matlub Khan (Chairman IBCCI and also Chairman NITOL-NILOY Group). Good representation is also expected from Bangladesh Fresh Fruits Importers Association (BFFAI), Bengal Agro Processor’s Association (BAPA) and Federation of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce & Industry (FBCCI), that you are aware.

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