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BBIN MVA and the way forward

BBIN MVA and the way forward

To promote the flow of vehicular traffic between member-states, the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) was signed in 2015. Although experts had hoped to stimulate an increase in commercial and personal vehicular traffic across borders, it failed to make any noteworthy impact. 

So, what went wrong?

Despite various studies and stakeholder consultancies conducted by donor agencies like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, the initiative failed to achieve anything significant. Bhutan ultimately backed out of the agreement, fearing possible displacement of local MSMEs in the trucking industry, endeavoring to fight for its small business owners. They also cited environmental concerns as another prime reason behind the move even as Bangladesh pushed on, developing a fruitful trade relationship with India. India has been asking Nepal to revisit the transit and bilateral agreement, but the latter seems unsure how to go about it.

ADB attempted to assist Nepali ministries by drafting suitable protocols and advocating cooperation between them and observed that the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies (MoICS), and the Foreign Ministry needed to cooperate better with the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport (MoPIT). General opinion among related personnel is that the MoICS should have precedent over matters related to bilateral and regional agreements, and that MoPIT was erroneously designated authority over these matters. This atmosphere of resentment failed to forge the collective political will necessary to motivate the ministries to cooperate and coordinate.

Recent studies on the transport industry of Bhutan and Nepal show that donor agencies attempt to woo and advocate only to higher-level stakeholders by disregarding stakeholders at the ground level and leaving the gap in their understanding unaddressed. This allows us to understand what went “wrong”: Being influenced by wrong examples of the tracking and tracing of end-to-end movements along the logistic chain and wrong advocacy with wrong stakeholders resulted in the pitfalls experienced. 

So, the way forward should be to begin from the ground level to raise awareness among stakeholders, and I believe that following steps can “grease the wheels” to make a real difference.

Firstly, various members of the government need to collectively decide on the appropriate ministry responsible, which will then implement a ground-up stakeholder consultancy approach. This approach should be informed by the expertise of relevant logistics actors and at least inform, if not incorporate, donor agencies to prevent redundancies and confusion among stakeholders. Donor agencies and relevant Nepali ministries should cultivate amicable working relationships to generate a collective political will that appropriately advocates for the modality so that all member-states understand how it might be mutually beneficial to them.

Secondly, undertaking several trade-related activities along highways to benefit citizens living close to them while addressing businesses/entrepreneurs, social safeguards, climate change, gender, disability issues and disaster prevention will help them adapt to the new economic ecosystem and better understand and enhance their monetary potential.

The benefits of carrying out local outreach in conjunction with BBIN MVA are manifold and have the potential to make a significant impact at the grassroots. At local marketplaces along highways connecting member-states, citizens can sell their goods and services, promoting economic opportunities for local businesses and entrepreneurs if they are provided support in identifying the nature of business, communicating policies and regulations as well as standards, or even providing suggestions to aspiring businesspeople and linking them to real traders (retailers, wholesalers, et cetera.)

Skill development centers along highways will provide training and employment opportunities for residents, including vocational training in trades such as driving, mechanics, carpentry, agriculture and hospitality.

Health and safety protocols will help protect workers and residents from accidents, occupational hazards, and exposure to pollutants during road construction. Placing disaster preparedness and response centers along highways with emergency supplies, communication systems, and trained personnel will ensure swift and effective responses to road accidents, landslides, floods and other disasters.

Community resilience techniques offered to communities along highways will provide knowledge to residents on disaster preparedness, risk reduction strategies and response, empowering them to take proactive measures to protect themselves and their communities by engaging with local communities, indigenous groups, and other stakeholders throughout the road construction process to solicit their input, address concerns, and ensure transparency and accountability.

Providing gender-inclusive business support services along highways, including access to finance, training and mentorship programs tailored to the specific needs of women entrepreneurs and specific business owners will foster an environment of economic agency and inclusiveness.

The social safety aspect is crucial, and it should include implementation of social safety nets and support programs for vulnerable populations living close to highways, including access to healthcare, education, housing, and social assistance. By integrating these social safety nets along trade routes, stakeholders can minimize adverse social impacts, enhance community resilience and promote sustainable development in the areas affected by natural calamities. Each of these methods has advantages, challenges, and potential applications depending on various factors like population density, type of topography and industries around the community. Introducing technologies that help with environmental impact mitigation and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions will increase awareness and ensure greater accessibility to mitigate climate change.

Generating tourism in Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh by encouraging community-based tourism initiatives along highways, where residents can offer homestays, guided tours, and cultural experiences, generating income while preserving and showcasing local traditions and heritage will be yet another way to help drive economic and social progress. Green infrastructure projects along highways, such as tree planting, rain gardens and natural drainage systems, mitigate climate change impacts, enhance biodiversity and improve resilience to disasters like floods and landslides.

We can achieve these benefits by implementing BBIN MVA, especially to support MSMEs by providing and linking activities under different trade infrastructure along with construction of roads and other trade-related infrastructure. Connectivity through different means and modes of transport like inland waterways and trains can further enhance the economy of the BBIN initiative by connecting trade and social issues for a better livelihood.

The author is trade consultant and advisor at Nepal Freight Forwarders Association. Views are personal