News Desk: Connectivity is the lifeblood of a nation’s continued and sustainable development. A mega bridge unlocks economic opportunities by uniting distant shores, intensifying trade, and shortening travel distances.
Padma Bridge, the dream once considered impossible, is not just a bridge to cross the mighty river, but an icon of Bangladesh’s determination, courage and bravery, steeled by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Defying all odds and conspiracy, the bridge is now a reality. Today it opens for traffic, ushering in a plethora of economic opportunities never thought possible.
Let us take a look at how the marvelous mega infrastructure built at a cost of Tk 30,000 crore is expected to change the economic landscape of Bangladesh, as well as improve the socio-economic status of people from all walks of society.
Commerce, trade to taste immediate benefits
The benefits of Padma Bridge, regardless of figures, will contribute a lot to the nation’s economy, and bring changes to the lives of millions of people living in the country’s south and south-western regions.
Immediate impacts of the bridge will include a rise in trade volume and vehicle traffic, as the easier connectivity will reduce transportation costs and time, making businesses more cost effective.
Speaking to The Business Post, former lead economist at the World Bank Dhaka Office, Zahid Hussain said, “The opening of this bridge will reduce the transportation time of a truck plying this route by 10 hours.
“It will bring benefits in two ways by cutting costs and saving time. Producers of goods will no longer have to depend on local markets. Instead, they can reach the capital and other parts of the country in a shorter amount of time.”
He continued, “Farmers who produce vegetables and fish will benefit the most as they will be able to deliver products much faster. Manufacturers located in Dhaka and Narayanganj will be able to grab the markets of south and southeastern regions very easily due to the connectivity.
“Thus, the two-way trade will increase the business volume and value, which will eventually contribute to the country’s GDP growth.”
Existing production capacity will be used to grab more markets as the connectivity will cut time and costs, and we can expect an additional 1.2 per cent to 1.7 per cent GDP growth because of the Padma Bridge.
A boon to agro sector
The Padma Bridge is offering a great potential for farmers by making communication much easier in the country’s south-western regions especially in Barishal, Khulna, Satkhira and Bagerhat and Jashore.
This bridge is shortening travel distances, time, and making transportation hassle free.
Md Farid, a vegetable trader of Bagerhat’s Fakirhat area, said, “I usually wait at least five to six hours at the ferry Ghat to reach Dhaka by crossing the river, and sometimes count losses as vegetables rot due to delays at the ghat.
“I will now be able to reach Dhaka within four hours. The Padma Bridge will help me earn a lot more, and do business more easily.”
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), Khulna, everyday around 600 tonnes of agricultural products are sent to the capital from Khulna, Satkhira and Bagerhat.
Not only that, the farmers and fishermen of the region will also get fair prices as they will be able to connect directly with the dealers.
Jakir Hossain, a shrimp farmer in Bagerhat, said, “I sell shrimps at lower prices to dealers in fear that any delay would cause the food item to rot. Sometimes, I even offer discounts due to a lack of buyers.
“But the Padma Bridge has opened a new opportunity for businessmen such as me, as we can now send shrimps to Dhaka directly. We now have options to get a better price, and bypass the syndicate.”
ACI Agribusinesses President FH Ansarey said, “Farmers used to have no choice but to dump their unsold products. Traders took this opportunity to buy the products from farmers at lower prices, and then sell those at higher rates in other parts of the country including Dhaka.
“Farmers did not send their products themselves as it involved risks. If a ferry got delayed for one day, all their vegetables would become spoiled, and the fare would be wasted. But now, they do not have to take that risk because of the Padma Bridge.”
This major improvement in communication will boost the bargaining strength of farmers in local markets, and they will also be able to take their products to Dhaka themselves to sell at higher prices.
Agricultural sector generates 42% of the country’s employment and contributes 12.07% GDP. Of which 5.7% came from crops and horticulture and 2.64% from fishing.
New era awaits tourism sector
The country’s tourism sector will have a big boost immediately after the opening of Padma Bridge, as it offers visitors heading towards any of the south-western districts a significant drop in travel time.
“Tourists using the ferry system used to suffer a lot due to the time-consuming process of crossing a river, which was necessary to visit Bagerhat, Kuakata and the Sundarbans. It takes at least four hours to cross the river, and it discourages potential tourists,” said Zahid Hussain.
As the bridge shortens the travel time, people will visit those regions more, while the people living in the southern part will travel to Cox’s Bazar, Rangamati and hill tract regions.
The Padma Bridge and its adjacent areas will turn into a tourism hub, boosting the country’s economy. Project Hilsa, a restaurant, built nearing Padma River in 2021 has already gained much popularity among travellers and tourists.
People have begun relocating their tourism businesses there to survive.
Mobarak Hossain, the owner of Padma Sweetmeat at Kathalbari Ghat in Zajira, said, “We had been doing business for around 20 years. I have decided to relocate my business along with a resort near the highway, as my customers will use the Padma Bridge from now on.
“Thousands of people are already visiting the area to take a look at the much-cherished bridge.”
Generation of investment, employment
With the opening of Padma Bridge for traffic, southern districts await a big jump in investments, spearheaded by the expansion of both production and exports. Besides, the region is now an attractive place for setting up new factories.
Barishal Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Saidur Rahman Rintu believes the southern division can be a hub of garment factories once the bridge is opened.
He continued, “Some export-oriented garment factory owners, who are from Barishal and have factories in Dhaka or Chattogram, have already purchased land along the Barishal-Payra Port highway in Shikarpur, Doarika, and areas near Bakerganj.
“This is because most garment workers in Dhaka and Chattogram are migrants from the southern districts. They will come back home, and there will be no shortages of skilled workers.”
Factory owners would not need to use other ports to export RMG items once the Payra port becomes fully operational, he said.
Mentioning that at least two lakh new jobs would be created in Barishal if the government provides necessary support, the business leader said, “Tourism in Kuakata and agricultural farms in the districts would be other potential sectors witnessing a boost.”
Former advisor to caretaker government Mirza Azizul Islam said, “Because of the connectivity created by this bridge which also offers low cost and easy transportation investors will consider this region for investment.
“The land prices here are comparatively low and available as well.”
He added, “Investors will choose this region for relocating their factories, because the lead time will come down by at least ten hours. So, why would the people continue to buy land at a higher cost in Dhaka or its adjacent areas to build their factories?”
Meanwhile, Zahid Hussain said, “We cannot predict how much investment will be there or when it will come, but I am quite certain that the investment will be there and will continue to come.”
“The Padma Bridge will curb the infrastructure deficit, but is it smart enough to trigger more investments? For long term benefits and to attract more investments, we have to remove other regulatory and infrastructural barriers.”
The Padma Bridge will boost the south-western region’s investment to GDP by at least 35 per cent, as well as generate additional employment opportunities for 7.43 lakh people, which equals to 1.2 per cent total labor force, revealed an Asian Development Bank report.
Reduced lead time to boost exports
The country’s exporters would get a relief from the curse of longer lead times as the Padma Bridge will reduce this time by integrating sea and land ports.
Though there are three sea ports in Bangladesh, 90 per cent of Bangladesh’s export-import trade is handled through the Chattogram port, while Mongla Port uses only half its capacity.
Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Associations (BKMEA) Executive President Mohammad Hatem said, “The Chattogram port regularly witnesses container congestion as it handles the majority of Bangladesh’s foreign trade.
“Besides, the distance between Dhaka and Chattogram is 70 kilometres more compared to that of the capital and Mongla. Now that we have the Padma Bridge, we will be able to avoid container congestion and reduce the overall lead time by using the south-western ports.”
Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Vice President Shahidullah Azim said, “Along with the reduction in travel distance, integration among the land and sea ports will have another positive impact on the import-export sector.”
“Most of the foreign trade in the northern region is also done via the Chattogram port. When apparel manufacturers start trading through the Mongla port, the northern region’s exports and imports will also begin utilising this port more.”
He also said many new factories would be built in the southern region once trade via the Mongla port gains momentum.
Transport sector’s economic contribution to rise
The Padma Bridge will significantly boost transportation business, which in turn would increase the contribution of this sector to Bangladesh’s GDP. The transportation sector contributed 7.4 per cent to the GDP in FY21, 6.56 per cent of which came from the land transport sector.
According to a study conducted by the AECOM New Zealand, the total road user benefit is estimated at $18.51 billion over the 31-year period.
Meanwhile, vehicular movement will see a sharp rise and attract more investments, as the improved connectivity will make communication more comfortable.
According to an ADB study, 24,000 vehicles will ply the Padma Bridge every day on average in 2024, which would increase to 67,000 daily by 2050.
Bus companies operating on the country’s southern and southwest-bound routes have started revamping their fleets by investing about Tk 300 crore altogether to increase the number of vehicles and trips ahead of the inauguration of the Padma Bridge, industry insiders say.
Mawa Paribahan Private Limited owner Ali Akbar Howlader told The Business Post that the existing bus companies are adding luxurious and better-looking vehicles to attract more passengers. Some local bus operators on both sides of Padma River are trying to convert to direct or long-distance services.
CMSME sector will celebrate
The Padma Bridge will have a cascading positive effect on the country’s Cottage, Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (CMSME), as the establishment of large industries is bound to create more opportunities for them.
Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DCCI) President Rizwan Rahman said, “Many SME and heavy industries will begin operation utilising the low costs of production and demographic dividend in the region, which will ensure diversification of industries.
“New SMEs and a significant number of industrial plants will also utilise the EZs in that region. More employment opportunities will be created for skilled and semi-skilled workers. Besides, large industries will source from the local SMEs, allowing integration in the production chain.
Regional connectivity to go up
Due to Bangladesh’s strategic location, the Padma Bridge promises to contribute to a multi-modal international transport network for the South Asian nations, through strong links along the Asian Highway.
It will offer a wide range of potentials for national and regional economic growth through promotion of international transports.
Chinese ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming said, “I believe that after the bridge is opened to the traffic, it will benefit the people of Bangladesh, contribute to the connectivity of South Asia, and serve as an everlasting bond of brotherhood between China and Bangladesh.
“Moreover, it serves as the missing link of the Trans Asian Railway and Asian Highway Network, and will become an integral part of BCIM. With the bridge in use, a more integrated Bangladesh will surely contribute to a more integrated and prosperous South Asia and beyond.”
Transit land routes for India to its eastern states of Tripura, Manipur, and Mizoram will become more efficient options with the operation of the Padma Bridge.
“Significant impacts are expected on international trade between neighboring countries such as India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar,” said Zahid Hussain.
The bridge has created more potential and we have to cash it by modernising customs, harmonising tax systems and other related issues. If it is done, Bangladesh will enjoy multipronged benefits in trade and connectivity.