Bangladesh expects to start direct coastal shipping 'soon' with its Bay of Bengal neighbour Thailand to cut short the trade route as well as costs, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam has said.
It is two hours flying time between the countries, but shipping takes 15 days to 20 days to reach as it goes via Singapore and Colombo.
Talks are on to connect the Chittagong Port in the Bay of Bengal with the Ranong Port in the East of the Andaman coast in south-western Thailand.
The state minster speaking at a panel in the ongoing Bangladesh expo in Bangkok on Tuesday said a Thai team recently visited Chittagong to check the port's infrastructure.
"We're hoping they'll be able to establish the link soon," he said, adding that Bangladesh was focused on establishing all sorts of connectivity with the Southeast Asian community, ASEAN. Thailand is considered as a 'gateway' for that.
Bangladesh also wants to sell its pharmaceutical products, ceramics and diversified jute products in Thailand and take investments for energy, ICT and tourism sectors.
The three-day expo, where Bangladesh showcased businesses, culture and heritage to lure Thailand into taking a fresh look at the country, was the first-of-its-kind initiative in 44 years of diplomatic relations.
The state minister said Bangladesh's current strategy was to boost 'physical connectivity' to Southeast Asia.
"Bangladesh is an aspirant to join the East-West Economic Corridor (EWEC) with a view to connecting trade routes from the Andaman Sea to Thailand to the South China Sea through land route between Thailand, Lao PDR, and Vietnam."
"With sustained and proactive engagement with two of our closet ASEAN neighbours, Myanmar and Thailand, Bangladesh believes it would be a logical next step to create Bangladesh's connectivity to the EWEC," he said.
The state minister said Thailand is Bangladesh's close Bay of Bengal neighbour with whom "we share ancient trading, cultural, religious and linguistic linkages and a common aspiration for regional and global peace, progress and prosperity."
He said it was "critical that the two countries sharing a coast along the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea that will make it possible to establish direct coastal shipping links."
"I am happy to note that the process has begun and I am positive to note that direct shipping connectivity will boost bilateral trade."
Bangladesh Ambassador to Thailand Saida Muna Tasneem supplemented the state minister at the panel and said even in 1200 years ago, there was "active" coastal shipping between the countries.
She said spices, betel leaves and many other products used to come from Bangladesh's Narshingdhi to some of the ports in Thailand.
"We are trying to revive that link using Chittagong port," she said, adding that Thailand is also focusing its Ranong port as a regional port for BIMSTEC grouping, countries along the Bay of Bengal.
"If we can introduce this, then it'll take three days to maximum five days for shipping between the countries from the current time of 15 days to 20 days". ?bdnews24.com