Trade Prospects between Bangladesh and Meghalaya


Samara Ashrat
Bangladesh and the India’s northeastern state Meghalaya are much more than next-door neighbors. Being geographically contiguous, they are ‘natural markets’ for each other. Meghalaya and Bangladesh are working together to widen and strengthen their cooperation. In the field of security, they have made significant progress in recent years. Now they could build on that foundation of cooperation and remove the bottlenecks affecting improved trade and connectivity. While Meghalaya can help develop Bangladesh’s export and investment climate, Bangladesh can let India use its infrastructure for surface and maritime connectivity to move men and material to the Northeast. Equally important is the need to remove tariff and non-tariff barriers, develop and modernize the infrastructure along the border, and facilitate connectivity bilaterally and within the sub-region and beyond. Recently the Chief Minister of Meghalaya Conrad Sangma said that, Meghalaya is keen to deepen economic and trade ties with Bangladesh. There can be a possibility of direct import of garments, plastic products, electronic products, processed food and frozen food. He also laid emphasis on strengthening mutual partnership in global value chain and diversification of products and sought Bangladesh’s cooperation in developing and flourishing Meghalaya’s tourism industry. Bangladesh Meghalaya Historic Ties The hill state of Meghalaya is bound on one side by Assam and on the other by a 423 km border along what are today the Sylhet plains of Bangladesh.Meghalaya’s close ties with Bangladesh, especially the undivided Sylhet district, is well known. The linguistic and religious links between the people of the two contiguous regions that had flourished in the early twentieth century are strong even today. Colonial records are rife with reference to the commerce that took place between the hill and plain. One report noted in 1841 that, “A considerable trade in cotton, iron ore, wax, ivory, betel leaf and cloths, is carried on between the plains and the hills.” The 1879 Statistical Account of Assam similarly found: “the external commerce of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills is chiefly conducted on the southern boundary, through the district of Sylhet. The total value is more considerable than might be expected, owing to the fact that these Hills practically possess the monopoly of supplying Bengal with lime, potatoes and oranges.” The hill folks met the plains people in the haat markets, where the trade was brisk. During 1876, it was estimated that total imports to the Khasi and Jaintia Hills were worth more than Rs 1.5 million. Rice was the major commodity, followed by fish products and textiles, as well as salt, tobacco, tea and coffee, brassware, liquor and the like. Total exports from the area were around Rs 1.6 million, particularly potatoes, limestone, cotton, betel and oranges. With the redrawing of political boundaries and the emergence of new nation states, the centuries-old commerce evaporated; what little was left went underground. This is still the situation today, nearly 60 years after Partition. Trade Prospects First of all, India’s access to the Chittagong and Mongla ports has established a direct connectivity with Meghalaya. This connectivity would further enhance bilateral economic ties and people-to-people contact. Another prospect between Bangladesh and Meghalaya is tourism. In terms of tourism Meghalaya offers pristine hill stations, rich culture and music, exciting adventure sports and serene eco-tourism venues. By strengthening cooperation with tour operators of Meghalaya and Bangladesh and developing new historic circuits, both of the parties can be benefitted. Meghalaya is blessed with the abundance of natural resources and congenial environment for natural and organic farming. To build a resilient future for the farmers of Meghalaya, Indian government aimed to increase exports of niche agricultural and horticultural products to neighboring countries, especially Bangladesh. Power Sector is another opportunity between Bangladesh and Meghalaya. Currently, Meghalaya has been able to tap only 10% of the 3400 MW hydropower potential. Bangladesh is an important potential market for power from Meghalaya.The Meghalaya government also intends to open inland waterways with Bangladesh to facilitate the movement of goods such as coal, limestone and boulders. The use of Bangladesh’s riverine routes could hugely benefit Assam and Meghalaya by making transportation of goods much easier. The Karimganj-Ashuganj river route is generally preferred, and both sides felt the necessity for upgrading navigability of the Kushiara river to increase bilateral trade. In addition to this, the state government has identified three common rivers for developing commercial ties with Bangladesh. The three rivers include: the Kynshi in West Khasi Hills district, Simsang in South Garo Hills and Jingrinam in West Khasi Hills.Lastly, the excellent educational institutions of Shillong can be a transformative opportunity Bangladesh. The investors from Meghalaya can also invest in economic zones of Bangladesh. Meghalaya has a historical relationship with Bangladesh. An enhanced connectivity with Meghalaya and increased people-to-people interactions can contribute a lot to the trade prospects of Bangladesh and Meghalaya. The governments of Bangladesh and India has been working to promote connectivity with the northeastern states by road, rail and river.But, the willingness of Bangladesh is also needed to boost trade ties with the northeastern part of India. Because, the investors of Meghalaya have ample opportunities to invest in different sectors of Bangladesh