Bangladesh has begun exporting food products using waterway for the first time with a cargo ship carrying 40,000 tonnes of Pran litchi drink.
The ship on Tuesday set off on its journey from the Pran Industrial Park in Narsingdi for Kolkata on the occasion of the golden jubilee of Bangladesh's independence.
State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury flagged off the export under the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade between Bangladesh and India.
Sources said it would require at least 40 trucks to send such a big consignment to India by road, while only a ship now is enough to do the job. Thus, the export cost will drop by 30% of what is required by road transport.
It will take eight days for the cargo ship to cross a 710km river route via Narsingdi, Narayanganj, and the Sheikhbaria point in Khulna and finally reach the Kolkata port.
State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said, "We have launched a mega scheme to dredge 10,000 kilometres of riverways for improving navigability. Some 2,500 kilometres have already been dredged. We want to use the new waterways for transporting goods."
"We are now working on building ocean-going ships to increase trade using waterways," he added.
Commerce secretary Jafar Uddin said, "Bangladesh will lose $5-7 billion in trade if it graduates to a developing country. We can increase our trade earnings if private sector companies like Pran come forward. We have to find new markets too."
The commerce secretary suggested producing onion powder and marketing it quickly as well as investing in edible oil.
Ahsan Khan Chowdhury, chairman and chief executive officer of Pran-RFL Group, said, "We are delighted to be the first exporter to send [food] products through the waterway."
In 1997, Pran Group initiated its by-road export to India by sending Chanachur to Tripura.
Pran is currently exporting more than 150 products to 28 Indian states such as Assam, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tripura, Gujarat, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala. The company's exports to India are growing by 10% on average every year. Besides, India accounts for about 30% of its total food exports
The successful exports to India with the inclusion of waterways will open up a new horizon, the Pran CEO added.
Bangladesh and India have been transporting goods under the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade since 2010. About 96% of the products are fly ash, which is used as a raw material for manufacturing cement. Pran has become the first company to start exporting food products using waterway.