Bangladesh's trade with Bhutan and Nepal has taken a hit as India's Darjeeling, through which most of the trade takes place, has been rocked by protests demanding a separate state for the majority Nepali-speaking Gorkhas.
It is unclear when the protesters, led by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), will call off their protests. The latest development has deeply affected the region's businesses, particularly tea and tourism.
Darjeeling shares 101km-border with Nepal in the west, 30km-border with Bhutan in the east and 19km-border with Bangladesh in the south.
Bangladesh exports cotton waste, cosmetics, battery, fabric, juice, biscuits to Nepal and Bhutan via Darjeeling’s Siliguri sub-division and Nepal exports pulses, animal feed, herbs, and vegetables to Bangladesh via the same route.
Indian exporters also use this route to export boulders and construction materials to Bangladesh.
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In the 2015-16 fiscal year, Bangladesh-Nepal bilateral trade volume
stood at $27.32 million. During the same period, Bangladesh's bilateral trade volume
with Bhutan was $26.34 million.
Dooars is the gateway to Bhutan and politically constitutes the plains of Darjeeling. But trade between Bangladesh and Bhutan hit a low after truck drivers refused to drive through the turbulent area.
Boulder stones are a major export item to Bangladesh and Sevoke in Siliguri is one of its key collection points. Sevoke, adjacent to Teesta River, has now become strife-torn due to the Gorkhaland agitation.
Truckers have refused to take the Sevoke route risking their lives after the Darjeeling unrest started couple of weeks ago. The lorry owners have decided to collect more boulder stones from the Balason River, located some 18km north by northwest of Siliguri to meet supply deficit.
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Bangladeshi trucks carry food products up to the Phulbari border point. From there, the goods are loaded on Nepal and Bhutan-bound trucks.
Phulbari is an Integrated Checkpost (ICP) with immigration, customs, border security, parking facilities, warehousing – all rolled into one.
The effects of Darjeeling protests were not felt along the Bangladesh-Nepal route via Siliguri so far, but trucks carrying goods to Jaigaon, located near the Bhutanese town of Phuentsholing, are victims of the inconvenience, as 160km Bangladesh-Bhutan route passes through the Dooars plains.
Since the protests started, the Darjeeling tea industry has estimated Rs100 crore losses as 87 tea gardens in the district have become non-operational.