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Connecting to Thrive: Integrating Transport in South Asia

March 10, 2021





  • Intraregional trade in South Asia accounts for barely five percent of the region's  total trade—just a fraction of the 25 percent for the ASEAN region. Bilateral trade between Bangladesh and India represents only 10 percent of Bangladesh’s total foreign trade, and one percent of India’s trade. A key factor for the low numbers is the sub-optimal transport integration in the region. 

    Transport integration agreements in South Asia therefore are crucial for creating cross-border integrated transport markets in the region. The Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA)—signed by Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN) in 2015—is a cornerstone of that integration. If implemented in full, it could lead to seamless movement of passenger, personnel, and cargo vehicles across the South Asian countries. 

    Our #OneSouthAsia online conversation explored the challenges and opportunities of transport integration in South Asia- with a particular focus on the eastern part of the region.  It discussed the opportunities for improving connectivity between Bangladesh and India and its wider economic benefits like growth in income, consumption and jobs. It was centered on the findings from the new World Bank report, Connecting to Thrive: Challenges and Opportunities of Transport Integration in Eastern South Asia, which will be released on March 9, 2021. 

    Senior economist Matías Herrera Dappe and lead private sector specialist Charles Kunaka presented the findings from the report.



  • Panelists


    Ambassador Vikram K Doraiswami

    High Commissioner of India to Bangladesh

    Vikram K Doraiswami is the High Commissioner of India to Bangladesh. He joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1992, and has previously served at the High Commission of India to Hong Kong, Beijing, Johannesburg, Uzbekistan, and Republic of Korea. He was also the Political Counsellor, Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in New York; Additional Secretary, International Organizations and Summits, and Head of the Division for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).


    Nihad Kabir

    President, Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dhaka, Bangladesh

    Nihad Kabir is the President of Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dhaka (MCCI). She is an advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, and a Senior Partner of Syed Ishtiaq Ahmed and Associates, a leading law firm of the country. She is also the Director and Shareholder of Kedarpur Tea Co. Ltd., a leading tea company.


    Ambassador Tariq Karim


    Ambassador Tariq Karim is the former High Commissioner of Bangladesh to India. Currently, he is a Distinguished Fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation of India and the advisor to the World Bank Regional Integration and Engagement in South Asia. During his tenure as the High Commissioner, Ambassador Karim initiated the sub-regional cooperation in water management between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal, and the power trade between Bangladesh and India.

    Opening Address


    Hartwig Schafer

    Vice President, South Asia Region, World Bank

    Hartwig Schafer is the World Bank’s Vice President for the South Asia Region since July 1, 2018. Schafer leads relations with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, and manages a portfolio of financial support worth more than $50 billion.



    Cecile Fruman

    Director, Regional Integration and Engagement, South Asia Region

    Cecile Fruman is Director, Regional Integration and Engagement in the South Asia Region (SAR). She is responsible for fostering collaborative activities amongst SAR countries and managing partnerships and engagements with SAR and global development partners.

    Presentation by Editors


    Matías Herrera Dappe

    Matías Herrera Dappe is a Senior Economist in the Infrastructure Practice Group of the World Bank, where he leads policy research programs on infrastructure. He has published extensively on the links between transport and trade and transport and economic development, the efficiency of ports and logistics, infrastructure investment needs and access, private participation in infrastructure, competition, and auctions.


    Charles Kunaka

    Charles Kunaka is a Lead Private Sector Specialist and Global Product Specialist on Connectivity and Logistics at the World Bank, where he leads several investment operations and projects on logistics and connectivity in East Asia, South Asia, and Africa. Previously, he served as joint Secretary of the Global Infrastructure Connectivity Alliance, a G20 initiative to share knowledge and experience in order to promote an integrated and coherent connectivity agenda across the world.

  • #OneSouthAsia conversations explore ideas for regional cooperation in economic connectivity, climate change, and human development. This is a part of our ongoing bi-monthly series.

    See our previous conversations:


    South Asia has the world’s lowest rate of women entrepreneurs, with just 18% of small, medium and large businesses principally owned by a woman. Few engage in trade. As South Asia rebuilds after COVID-19, the region needs more women entrepreneurs to help drive innovations in services and products. Three entrepreneurs from the region spoke about how they are navigating challenges during these times. Watch Here 

    Food prices in South Asia rose by over 10 percent in 2020, more than any other region. Trade policy responses such as eliminating tariffs and facilitating trade flows can help maintain access to essential food products. How resilient are South Asia’s food supply chains amid the COVID-19 pandemic?  Experts from the region discussed the opportunities.  Watch Here 



    Regional integration, cooperation, and engagement can produce significant gains across South Asia. Intra-regional trade, for instance, stands at only a third of its potential with an estimated gap of $23 billion. Cooperation in energy between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal could lead to savings of $17 billion.  As South Asia grapples with the economic impact of COVID-19, it has an opportunity to strengthen regional institutions, improve regional infrastructure and connectivity, advance trade policy, and develop cross-border solutions to shared problems. Our experts fromt he region discussed the recovery. Watch Here


  • WHEN: March 10, 2021 l 8 am EST
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  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Tag: #OneSouthAsia @cfruman @HartwigSchafer