NEW DELHI, Nov 15 - India and Bangladesh on Sunday signed the standard operating procedure (SOP) to operationalise the �Agreement on Coastal Shipping� signed between the two countries in June.
The operation of the agreement would lead to the opening of coastal shipping between India and Bangladesh enabling the movement of cargo to the Northeast through coastal shipping up to Chittagong and thereafter by road or inland waterways.
The SOP was signed by the Joint DG (Shipping), Ministry of Shipping and Chief Engineer and Ship Surveyor, Department of Shipping, Government of Bangladesh in the presence of Union Minister of Shipping and Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari.
The SOP will pave the way to promote coastal shipping between India and Bangladesh and would enhance bilateral trade between the two countries by bringing down the cost of transportation of export-import (EXIM) cargo.
The SOP contains provisions which stipulate that India and Bangladesh shall render same treatment to the other country�s vessels as it would have done to its national vessels used in international sea transportation. The two sides have also agreed upon the use of vessels of river sea vessel (RSV) category for Indo-Bangladesh coastal shipping, official sources said.
Meanwhile, the two countries will also hold Shipping Secretary-level talks on November 16, which will cover the issues relating to an MoU on passenger and cruise vessel movement, discussion on the protocol to operationalise the MoU on use of Mongla and Chittagong ports, payment of transit fees and bank guarantee, dredging of rivers in the
protocol route using the Regional IDA Assistance of World Bank Assistance, among other issues.
India and Bangladesh have a bilateral Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT) for operation of inland vessels on the river protocol routes between river ports of Haldia, Kolkata, Pandu, Karimganj and Silghat in India and Narayanganj, Khulna, Mongla, Sirajganj and Ashuganj in Bangladesh. This protocol between the two countries has facilitated the movement of EXIM trade as well as cargo bound for the northeastern states of India.
During the current financial year, India for the first time is using the Indo-Bangladesh river protocol to transport food grains via Ashuganj to Tripura. However, the quantum of cargo has not picked up because of low draft in the upper reaches of Bangladesh rivers and also because of certain non-trade barriers.
Sources said there is no significant cargo movement between sea ports of Bangladesh and India as it is not profitable for the big vessels to operate between these sea ports. Under such circumstances there is a need for smaller ships to provide direct connectivity of eastern sea ports of India with Chittagong and other ports in Bangladesh. This, besides improving the connectivity, will also provide competitive freight rates.
The biggest impediment in commencing coastal shipping between India and Bangladesh was the non-availability of river sea vessels in Bangladesh.