BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement: An Initiative for improving South-Asian Regional Cooperation

08 October, 2021


Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) is a step towards improving the economic situations of these South-Asian countries through regional cooperation. With superpowers like China on the rise and its Belt Road Initiative, this agreement showcases the strength of regional understanding. Such agreements solidify South-Asian relations which can also be interpreted as a defence against the influence of China in the South-Asian region.


The BBIN economic project aims at constructing an economic corridor[i] connecting Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal by roads. A meeting of the Ministers of Transport took place on June 15, 2015, in Thimpu, Bhutan. The agreement was created ‘for the Regulation of Passenger, Personal and Cargo Vehicular Traffic between Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal’[ii] and improve the quality of transportation between these neighbouring countries also aiding the economy. The corridor will enhance connectivity between goods, people and support easier transportation. The meeting also put forward a six-month plan from July to December 2015 to map out the intricacies of the agreement.


The formation of this agreement came after the 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit held in Kathmandu, Nepal that preached and encouraged the South-Asian countries to expand network and connectivity in the region. The initiative is also determined to keep the process environment friendly and economically efficient[iii] therefore ensuring that all countries involved can reap the benefits.


These nations are believed to be not at their best economic potential hence further development in various sectors other than just roadways need to be pursued. However, this is a start in this sub-region cooperation. These projects will also generate employment opportunities for all the respective countries including labourers, engineers, transportation workers and drivers. With better connectivity businesses would also be open to invest and explore these territories. They will have a platform to build business connections and carry them out successfully that has been hindered due to the lack of transit facilities. Employers and organisations would also want to take advantage of these amenities that will reduce their apprehension when doing trade or business with these neighbouring countries.


However, despite these large claims little has been done over the years to implement the agreement. Multiple challenges have presented themselves in this including the problems of existing infrastructure, lack of a prompt attitude while implementing this project. To promote regional economic integration, optimal utilisation of existing infrastructure must be assured. It's possible that attaining the MVA's full economic potential won't be possible because of the lack of vigour with which it was implemented. The sub-region must recognise that the MVA has the potential to facilitate cross-country mobility of commodities and passenger vehicles, as well as to open up new development opportunities. New avenues for supply chain growth and intermodal/multimodal logistics services should also be explored while taking this agreement further.


In 2020[iv], a meeting was held in New Delhi between the participant countries to discuss the BBIN agreement and its progress. The agenda of the meeting was to discuss the protocols regarding the movement of passengers and cargo and its regulation.


Some of the key aspects of the agreement are[v]:

♦Member states would be permitted to operate their vehicles in each other’s territory for transportation of cargo and passengers.

♦To enter a neighbouring country's territory, all cars would need an electronic permit, and border security measures across nations' borders would remain in place.

♦Cargo vehicles will be allowed to enter any of the four countries without the requirement for products to be transferred from one truck to another at the border.

♦Cargo trucks are tracked electronically, permits are granted online, and permits are delivered electronically to all land ports under the system.

♦Every time the container door is opened, an electronic seal on the vehicle informs authorities.


The implementation of the agreement has also gone through multiple stages including trial runs of transport routes and vehicles. Furthermore, vehicles travelling on defined routes require transportation service facilities such as relaxation centres, gasoline refuelling stations, and any other amenities needed by both crew members and vehicles. In its various sections, the MVA expressly addresses all of these elements.


A key drawback in multi-lateral agreements is the coordination it requires and the inability for countries to meet that need. Meetings, discussions, forums, and physical implementation of those are essential for these agreements to function. Another important factor of this agreement is its political factor. This alliance will also act as resistance towards growing China influence in the region as well as portray a strong front regarding sub-regional South-Asian unity.


However, the motivations of these nations need to be strong to operationalise this agreement. The lack of trust between these countries is an added hurdle in the road of this agreement. The history of the India-Bangladesh border[vi], the recent rift between India-Nepal relations that ensued over geographical claims made by Nepal and other minor but multiple issues create a rift in the harmony of these processes. It is difficult for these countries to rise from these political and historical barriers to come together to work on a project that is profitable to all participant countries but is being shelved due to bad diplomacy.


Adding onto that, diplomacy can be a key characteristic in improving these relations between countries. It has scope for improvement to aid regional relations. Misunderstandings created by past events cannot be changed but can be improved. The conflicts and tension aren’t only due to past events but also polarising the interests of countries today. Another hurdle was Bhutan’s refusal[vii] to ratify the agreement as it believed that this agreement would negatively impact the local transport industry. China’s BRI initiative also aims to connect South-Asian countries which will be a competitive factor interfering with this regional initiative. China’s approach to these countries might put them into a dilemma and forcing them to analyse the cost-benefit analysis of both agreements.


All these various challenges have prevented substantial regional growth in South-Asia that can only see success when these countries take a step towards independence and include regional cooperation as an important aspect in their diplomacy, initiatives and policies.


[vi] SAHOO, PRASANTA. “Borders: The Main Barrier To South Asian Integration.” World Affairs: The Journal of International Issues 21, no. 3 (2017): 80–97.

[vii] Chatterjee, Bipul, and Surendar Singh. “Regional Connectivity in South Asia: Role of the International Road Transports (TIR) Convention.” Edited by Sarah S. Aneel, Uzma T. Haroon, and Imrana Niazi. Corridors of Knowledge for Peace and Development. Sustainable Development Policy Institute, 2020.