BBIN

Roads to Resilience: Navigating the BBIN Initiative for Seamless Connectivity in South Asia

BBIN, Foreign Policy, good governance, India's Foreign Policy, International Relations, Politics, Public administration

BBIN | Roads to Resilience

Introduction:

Back in 1996, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal joined hands to establish the South Asian Growth Quadrangle with a vision to enhance various sectors such as energy, power, trade, investment, transport, and tourism. This collaborative effort laid the groundwork for the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) Program, initiated in 2001. Subsequently, the inclusion of Maldives and Sri Lanka led to the formation of the SASEC Program, marking a strategic move that left the original four-party alliance in a period of relative inactivity.

Table of Contents

SASEC Program and Achievements:

The SASEC Program, operational since 2001, has evolved into a robust project-based partnership encompassing Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. The primary objective is to stimulate regional prosperity by enhancing cross-border connectivity, fostering increased trade among member countries, and strengthening regional economic cooperation. As of June 2020, the SASEC countries have successfully implemented 61 regional projects, with a total value exceeding $13 billion. These projects span various sectors, including energy, transport, trade facilitation, economic corridor development, and information and communications technology (ICT). The Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) serves as the Secretariat for the SASEC member countries.

Focus Areas and Priorities:

The SASEC Program places emphasis on specific priority areas for investment and coordinated action, including transport, trade facilitation, energy, and economic corridor development. Additionally, SASEC actively supports regional initiatives in ICT, recognizing the pivotal role of technology in fostering sustainable economic growth and connectivity.

BBIN Initiative and the Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA):

The BBIN Initiative came to the forefront in 2014 as a response to the failure of the SAARC Motor Vehicle Agreement. In 2015, a landmark moment was achieved when the Transport Ministers of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal signed the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement. This agreement facilitates seamless movement of both passenger and cargo vehicles among the four participating countries.

Key Features of the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement:

The BBIN MVA permits member states to operate vehicles within each other’s territories for the transportation of cargo and passengers, including third-country transport and personal vehicles. Each vehicle requires an electronic permit to enter another country’s territory, maintaining border security arrangements. Notably, cargo vehicles can enter any of the four nations without the need for trans-shipment of goods at the border. The system employs electronic tracking for cargo vehicles, online issuance and transmission of permits to all land ports, and electronic seals on containers to enhance regulatory oversight.

Bhutan’s Considerations and Ongoing Progress:

While Bhutan initially withheld ratification, citing concerns about a cap on vehicles entering its territory, the other three signatory countries proceeded with the implementation of the BBIN MVA. Recent developments in March 2022 saw India, Bangladesh, and Nepal finalizing an enabling memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the implementation of the long-gestating agreement.

Challenges and Future Prospects:

In 2020, Bhutan expressed reservations due to current infrastructure limitations and a commitment to remaining a “carbon-negative” country. Despite ongoing hopes for a change in Bhutan’s stance, a decision was made in November 2021 to proceed with implementation, given the absence of new signals from Thimphu on the project.

Conclusion:

The BBIN Initiative stands as a testament to the collective vision of regional cooperation and connectivity among Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal. While challenges persist, the ongoing commitment to the implementation of the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement reflects a positive step towards fostering economic growth and connectivity in the South Asian region. The comprehensive efforts and discussions among the member countries highlight the potential for continued collaboration and prosperity in the years to come.

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