Bangladesh will receive $753.45 million under the first phase of the Accelerating Transport and Trade Connectivity in Eastern South Asia (ACCESS) programme to address some of the key barriers to trade, the global lender said in a statement.
The fund will be used to upgrade the 43 km two-lane Sylhet-Charkai-Sheola road to a climate-resilient four-lane road, connecting the Sheola Land Port with the Dhaka-Sylhet Highway. This will cut down travel time by 30 percent, according to the World Bank.
The project will support digital systems, infrastructure, and more streamlined processes at Benapole, Bhomra, and Burimari land ports, which handle almost 80 percent of land-based trade.
It will also support the modernisation of the Chattogram customs house which handles 90 percent of all import/export declarations in Bangladesh.
The programme also aims to improve selected road corridors and upgrading key land ports and custom infrastructure, while ensuring green and climate-resilient construction.
This will help the integration of landlocked Nepal and Bhutan with the gateway countries of Bangladesh and India.
“Regional trade offers enormous untapped potential for the countries of South Asia. Today, regional trade accounts for only 5 percent of South Asia’s total trade, while in East Asia it accounts for 50 percent,” said Hartwig Schafer, World Bank vice president for South Asia.
“South Asia can boost economic growth significantly and create opportunities for millions of people by increasing regional trade and connectivity.”
While the trade between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal grew six times from 2015 to 2019, the unexploited potential for regional trade is estimated at 93 percent for Bangladesh, said Mercy Tembon, country director for Bangladesh and Bhutan.
“The project will help Bangladesh improve regional trade and transport and automation of processes will build resilience to crises like the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Meanwhile, Nepal will receive $275 million under the project to upgrade its road infrastructure to reduce travel time and improve access to India’s western seaports.
The programme will also help advance Bangladesh’s and Nepal’s preparedness and subsequent implementation of the Motor Vehicle Agreement. In the second phase, the programme will include Bhutan.