Strategic alliance with India, Myanmar to exploit sea resources mooted

The idea of forming a Bay of Bengal community among Bangladesh, India and Myanmar is getting momentum.

Published : 26 August 2014, 12:47 PM
Updated : 26 August 2014, 06:35 PM

C Raja Mohan, who is the head of strategic studies and distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, recently at a lecture in Dhaka had mooted the idea to form a trilateral group.

On Tuesday at a roundtable on ‘blue economy’, the idea also came up from the private sector who believed Bangladesh should have a “strategic partnership alliance” with India and Myanmar to exploit sea resources.

The suggestion came up as Bangladesh resolved the maritime dispute with the two neighbours “peacefully”.

Dhaka established its sovereign rights on more than 118,000 sq kms of territorial sea, 200 nautical miles (NM) of exclusive economic zone and 354 NM continental shelves from the Chittagong coast through international courts.

It gave hope of extracting “plenty of resources” beneath the Bay of Bengal that Bangladesh considers its “third neighbour”.

The Board of Investment (BOI) has organised the roundtable inviting both government and private sectors to sensitise them about the prospect of investing in the Bay.

Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali and Prime Minister’s adviser on energy and power Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury were present at the roundtable with BOI Executive Chairman SA Samad in the chair.
Ferdaus Ara Begum, Chief Executive Officer of an NGO, BUILD, who works on capacity building first put forward the idea at the roundtable. It was endorsed by the Shipping Secretary Syed Monjurul Islam and former Principal Secretary Sheikh Md Wahiduzzaman.
“We can form a partnership alliance with Myanmar and India. It would be better, if it’s done sooner,” Begum said while commenting on keynote paper.
She also stressed on knowledge and capacity building for reaping the benefits of resolving maritime dispute.
She also suggested making strategies for “proper planning and investment” in the sea.
Wahiduzzaman said: “if we have cooperation (with India and Myanamr), then we can gain”.
He also suggested “comprehensive partnership” with India and Myanmar.
The foreign minister said Bangladesh has partnership with India and Myanmar under the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).
“We are also working for BCIM (Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar) collaboration,” he said.
The workshop was organised just before the beginning of the two-day international conference on “blue economy” on Sep 1 in Dhaka.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will inaugurate the mega-gathering.
poverty alleviation is possible by leveraging the growth of “blue economy”.
The foreign minister advocated this recently at a global forum in the Dutch’s capital, The Hague when he suggested inclusion of oceans and seas in the post-2015 development agenda.
“Bay of Bengal is our third neighbour,” Md Khurshed Alam, a secretary (maritime affairs) in the foreign ministry said.
The former rear admiral in Bangladesh Navy in his keynote paper showed number of ways of using the Bay for boosting economic growth.
He invited private sector to come up and extract marine resources ranging from fisheries to minerals.

Former President of apex business body, FBCCI, AK Azad, however, said private sector would need government support in this regard.

He particularly demanded loans with easy terms and conditions for investments.

The Shipping Secretary Syed Monjurul Islam believes a “short-term, mid-term and long-term” plan should be chalked out on how to use the Bay for economic activity.

“We need strategic alliance,” he also said, “as we lack knowledge and experience in this sector”.

The Prime Minister’s adviser Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury stressed on raising awareness about the sea.

“We need to have comprehensive strategy,” he said.

He said private sector would not come forward if it was risky.

“We have to have surveys and research for their (private sector) risk mitigation,” he stressed.

The foreign minister Mahmood Ali also said that the maritime boundary dispute settlement came as “a big opportunity” for Bangladesh.

“We have to use this,” he said asking the opposition BNP that criticised the government after both the verdicts, to support “the successes”.

BNP after Bangladesh’s victory over Myanmar in 2012 first praised the government, but later said it was “a big deception”.

After the issue was resolved with India, BNP also said the government was staging “a drama”.

According to the government estimates, about 30 million people directly depend on oceanic economic activities like fisheries and commercial transportation for their livelihood in Bangladesh.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher