The case of Bangladesh

Bangladesh must overcome geopolitical factors, among more, to progress with major port development. Credit: Fredrik Rubensson.

COMMENT: Bangladesh is an interesting case study; it is a country where international trade is on the march but it is still a country without a deep-sea port, writes Mike Mundy.

GDP growth is expected to be in the order of 7% this year and Bangladesh’s export sector is enjoying sustained growth with this on course to achieve over $50bn in value per year by 2021.

The country’s two existing commercial ports, Chittagong and Mongola, together currently handle trade estimated to be worth $60bn per annum. Chittagong is the main port handling 98% of the country’s container cargo (1.8m teu per annum) and 92% of the total cargo volume which includes 30m tons of bulk cargo per annum.

The current rate of cargo growth at Chittagong is put as high as 15% per annum and against this background it is expected that available capacity at the port will be exhausted as early as 2018. So, in addition to there being a deep water port requirement – the maximum draft available at Chittagong is 9.2 m – there is also a looming new capacity requirement. Deep water is required to offer the lower freight rate costs that come with bigger ships and capacity has to be added because existing capacity is fast running out.

Over the years, four potential locations have been identified where a deep-sea port could be built to solve these problems and provide a platform for growth - Chittagong, Sonadia, Matarbari, and Payra. The first two locations saw China propose new port schemes, the third Japan via JICA and the fourth initially China and then India.

And herein lies one of the major problems with progressing major port development in Bangladesh – the geopolitical factors underpinning who is behind project implementation. Non-movement on the Chinese schemes is at least partly put at the door of the US and India as they exert their influence, and the Payra project has now reportedly metamorphosed into one where diverse countries can make investments.

Bangladesh lies in a politically sensitive region but ultimately just as other countries do it has to recognise that port development is an economic necessity and get on with the job. It has to formulate a National Port Masterplan that serves its interests first and those of other parties second.

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