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Narendra Modi close to ending one of the world'scs biggest border disputes

by IRC-ADMIN - Jun 1 2015 12:00AM

Ending a border dispute with Bangladesh would help bilateral trade surge and counter China'scs growing influence in the country

While India and Bangladesh share one of the world'scs longest land borders, crossing it isn'sct easy. Cargo trucks drive hundreds of kilometres through a choke point known as the Chicken'scs Neck to circumvent Bangladesh and reach India'scs isolated northeast states. Shipping containers can make detours as far as Singapore, adding weeks to delivery times, and smaller boats are barred from sailing across shared waterways. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visits Bangladesh on Saturday, is close to tearing down those barriers. Ending a border dispute that pre-dates Bangladesh'scs founding in 1971 would help bilateral trade surge and counter China'scs growing influence in India'scs eastern neighbourhood. “It'scs a transformative moment,” said Alyssa Ayres, a former US state department official now at the council on foreign relations. “Having a border that is no longer contested on the eastern front relieves India of having one whole array of problems. It'scll be great for both economies.” The 4,100 kilometre continuous land border, the world'scs fifth longest, is strewn with islets of territory completely encircled by the other nation, sometimes several times over. The estimated 200,000 people residing in those can cross two international boundaries just to reach a school or hospital—all while trying to avoid armed border guards. Modi has sought to end that historical anomaly. A bill that would allow the countries to swap pockets of land passed in the Rajya Sabha last month, and now needs sign-off from the Lok Sabha controlled by Modi'scs Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina'scs ruling party, which faces no parliamentary opposition, backs the deal. Unlocking rivers During Modi'scs two-day trip, the nations will also sign a coastal shipping deal to reduce sea transit times and costs, according to Bangladesh cabinet secretary M. Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan. They'scll also unlock inland rivers that crisscross the countries, said Sarveen Narula, director of liner and passenger services at the state-run Shipping Corporation of India Ltd. “With this agreement, a lot of those trucks would get off the road,” Narula said, adding that it would pave the way for more agreements. “It could be akin to what you have between the US and Canada, where you can navigate freely.” The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) estimates that the moves may boost formal two-way trade by almost half to $10 billion by 2018. While the data fail to capture an extensive amount of informal commerce, the official trade now is one way: Bangladesh imports (pulses, rice and cotton) about 13 times more from India than it exports (mostly garments). Countering China One reason pushing Modi toward improved ties is China, Bangladesh'scs top formal trade partner and biggest military supplier. Hasina in 2010 called China the “most dependable and consistent friend of Bangladesh.” Beijing-based China Harbour Engineering Co. is building a container terminal at Chittagong port, which facilitates more than 90% of Bangladesh'scs imports and exports. Hasina has elicited China'scs support for other projects, including a tunnel that would connect Bangladesh'scs main transport artery to a proposed Southeast Asian mega-highway. Jai Kumar Verma, a former director in India'scs cabinet secretariat, said Modi'scs visit to Bangladesh would help stabilize a relationship he called “a roller coaster.” “India is concerned about the rising interest of China,” he said. “Bangladesh is strategically located, and it can be a gateway to trade to Southeast Asia.”

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