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$1.78 Billion ADB Facility to Improve Transport, Regional Trade in Bangladesh

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Transport and trade facilitation are among the priorities of the members of the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation. Photo courtesy of Roads and Highways Department, Bangladesh.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) today approved a $1.78 billion multitranche financing facility (MFF) to improve mobility, road safety, and regional trade along the Dhaka–Sylhet trade corridor in Bangladesh.

The Dhaka–Sylhet corridor, once completed, will support a new trade route that connects Chattogram port with India’s northeastern states through the three land ports of Akhaura, Sheola, and Tamabil, and from there to Bhutan and Myanmar. The corridor is also the centerpiece of the Bangladesh government’s planned Northeast Bangladesh Economic Corridor, which aims to promote key industries in the area, such as energy generation and production of construction materials, and to better integrate them with the rest of the economy in the country.

“Bangladesh’s export-driven economic growth has shown its unique potential and opportunity of becoming a regional transport and trade hub. To sustain this growth, the country’s transport infrastructure needs to be improved,” said ADB Transport Specialist for South Asia Satomi Sakaguchi. “The project road is the main part of Road Corridor No. 5 under the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) program. Its improvement will reduce logistics costs, increase competitiveness, and help expand regional trade with neighboring South Asian countries, as well as providing safe accessibility to the community members. By doing so, the investment project will contribute to the government’s goal of achieving inclusive growth and sustainable development.”

The SASEC Dhaka–Sylhet Corridor Road Investment Project will be delivered in four tranches. The $400 million first tranche of the MFF will help finance the initial works of the major contracts for the widening of about 210 kilometers (km) of National Highway No. 2 along the Dhaka–Sylhet corridor from a two-lane to a four-lane road with slow-moving vehicular traffic lanes. It will include 60 km of footpath, 26 footbridges, and 13 overpasses. Its design will have features responsive to the needs of the elderly, women, children, and the differently abled, as well as disaster and climate risks.

The government will fund $911 million of the total project cost of $2.69 billion. Apart from the MFF, ADB will also provide a $1 million technical assistance grant from its Technical Assistance Special Fund and an additional $2 million grant from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, financed by the Government of Japan, to support capacity building of the Roads and Highways Department on road safety and maintenance, climate change, and gender equality and social inclusion.

Transport and trade facilitation are among the priorities of SASEC members, which since 2001, have invested more than $14.3 billion in projects in the region, including 43 transport projects worth $11.4 billion.

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Brazil and Argentina preparing new Latin American currency to ‘reduce reliance on US dollar’

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Image source: ndtv.com

The governments of Brazil and Argentina are making plans to create a new currency for Latin America, called the Sur (“south” in English), according to a report in the Financial Times.

Other countries in the region will be invited to use the currency.

Their goal is to “boost regional trade and reduce reliance on the US dollar”, the newspaper noted, citing government officials.

Argentina’s Economic Minister Sergio Massa told the Financial Times that the South American nations will soon “start studying the parameters needed for a common currency, which includes everything from fiscal issues to the size of the economy and the role of central banks”.

Brazil has the largest economy in Latin America, and Argentina has the third biggest (after Mexico).

Argentina-based Spanish economist Alfredo Serrano Manc, who directs a think tank dedicated to regional integration, the Latin American Strategic Center of Geopolitics (CELAG), told the Financial Times that “the path is to find mechanisms which substitute the dependence on the dollar”.

He added that now is the moment, given that “there are many governments that are ideologically similar”, with left-wing leaders across Latin America.

During his electoral campaign, Lula had floated the possibility of creating a regional currency for trade.

At a rally in May 2022, the Workers’ Party leader had said, “We are going to create a currency in Latin America, because we can’t keep depending on the dollar”.

Lula revealed that it would be called the Sur. He added that it would not be based on the euro model, and that countries could maintain their sovereign domestic currency. Instead, the plan would be to use the Sur for regional trade, Lula said.

After Lula won the October 2022 election, Ecuador’s left-wing politician and economist Andrés Arauz published a blueprint for a “new regional financial architecture” for Latin America.

Arauz said the plan would be to revive regional institutions like the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Banco del Sur (Bank of the South), and to create a Banco Central del Sur (Central Bank of the South) to oversee the new currency.

The goal is “to harmonize the payment systems of” the countries that make up UNASUR in order “to carry out inter-bank transfers to any bank inside of the region in real time and from a cellphone”, he wrote.

Today, Argentina is trapped in $44 billion of debt with the US-dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF). This dollar-denominated foreign debt has led to a constant drain of foreign currency out of Argentina, fueling high levels of inflation.

Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández visited China and Russia in February 2022, seeking alternatives to the US-dominated financial system, and joining Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Argentina has also applied to join the extended BRICS+ bloc, with Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Buenos Aires attended the group’s 2022 summits at Beijing’s invitation.

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European farms mix things up to guard against food-supply shocks

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By ETHAN BILBY

‘Items in this section have limited availability due to supplier production issues,’ ‘Sorry, temporarily out of stock’ and ‘Sold out’ are all signs that became familiar as recent global upheavals exposed how precarious our food supply is.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to bare shelves in supermarkets as shipping routes were cut off. The war in Ukraine has affected the supply of essential grains.

But increased climate change stands to cause even greater disruption. Researchers say part of the solution to mitigating that risk is for farms to become more mixed through some combination of crop cultivation, livestock production and forestry, a move that would also make agriculture more sustainable. 

For Dr Sara Burbi, assistant professor at Coventry University in the UK until December 2022 and now an independent researcher, COVID-19 was a wake-up call.

‘Suddenly, we experienced first-hand what happens when value chains are not resilient to shocks and what happens when globalisation, with all its intricacies, does not work anymore,’ she said. ‘We saw highly specialised farming systems fail when they over-relied on external inputs that they had no access to.’

Climate change, according to Burbi, could provide even bigger global shocks ranging from widespread crop failures to lower yields or damage from flooding. More sustainable agriculture is essential to ensure food supplies can withstand the impact of climate change and unexpected local, national and even global crises.

Beneficial combos

During her tenure at Coventry University, Burbi coordinated the EU-funded AGROMIX project, which runs until end-October 2024.

As part of the project, pilot farms across Europe are experimenting with combining crop and livestock production in one farm (mixed farming) and with pairing farming and forestry activities (agroforestry). Poultry grazing in orchards is an example of a mixed-farming approach. The results reveal interesting synergies and promising effects, including improvements in soil health.

‘For a long time, forestry and agricultural activities have been considered at odds, as we have pushed for more and more specialised land uses,’ Burbi said. ‘This has led to loss of soil fertility and a sharp decline in biodiversity, coupled with an increased dependence on external inputs to compensate.’ 

A combined system can increase the cycling of nutrients needed in the soil for crops to grow. It can also help to regulate air and water quality, prevent land degradation and even provide biomass and food on-site for livestock.

One site in Switzerland, for instance, found that mixed farming helped keep soil quality high, while more specialised farming tended to deplete it.

AGROMIX will use 12 pilot sites and nine experimental ones, spread across three climatic zones (Atlantic, Continental and Mediterranean), to develop recommendations for farmers on combining productivity with greater sustainability and climate resilience.

Although mixed farming has been practiced for a long time, it is only recently that scientists have begun to measure biophysical data on such sites and provide real evidence to support approaches that work.

The project has found that the presence of trees on pasture has measurable benefits to animal health and welfare, especially in extreme heat when they provide a canopy of much-needed shade.

Trees and hedgerows can also offset greenhouse-gas emissions from livestock, increase the carbon sequestration capacity of the land, provide a haven for biodiversity and help prevent flooding.

The project wants to work closely with farmers, taking into account their needs and priorities.

‘Knowledge integration can empower key actors, in this case farmers, to embrace the transition to sustainable farming,’ Burbi said.

The next step will be designing agriculture systems that are totally energy independent and, as a result, even more sustainable.

Forest focus

The EU-funded MIXED project at Aarhus University in Denmark is also focused on combining mixed farming systems with agroforestry to make agriculture more efficient and resilient.

‘It’s not only about economic efficiency, but also environmental and climate efficiency,’ said Professor Tommy Dalgaard, the project coordinator. ‘Agriculture needs to be resilient to change, all kinds of change.’

Working with around 100 farmers across Europe, MIXED has created networks to study the different ways in which mixed farming and agroforestry can be used.

One focus is on the take-aways that can be gleaned from the traditional agroforestry techniques used in the Tagus Valley of Portugal, in an area known as the Montado.

‘They have these big cork oaks that are often more than 100 years old with grazing cattle below them,’ said Dalgaard. ‘In the winter, they can plough the soil and make small fields with cereal so they can harvest a winter crop and then in the dry season the cattle can be there.’

It is possible to have these green, vegetated areas because of the ancient oak trees, which create shade and sustain the water cycle.

The concern is that drought may threaten the oaks, so researchers from the project are trying to work out how best to preserve the system as well as how to adapt it to new areas.

Danish farms in the project have taken a different approach, looking at how farmers can use coppicing to create a carbon sink. Coppicing is a pruning technique that cuts trees to ground level, causing new shoots to grow rapidly from the base to form a bush.

These are then usually harvested every 10-20 years for biomass fuel, meanwhile also giving shelter and shadow to free-range, high-value livestock such as sows with piglets. Cutting the bushes to create mulch also helps to improve soil quality and avoids burning them, according to Dalgaard.

The project’s ultimate aim is to build up a European database demonstrating examples of mixed farming and agroforestry, highlighting the benefits and advising on best practices. Essentially, it is about inspiring more farmers to adopt mixed farming and agroforestry methods and supporting them in the process.

‘We need real-life examples,’ said Dalgaard. ‘We now have some concrete examples of farmers, agricultural landscapes and value chains that can report good results from having done something in a different way.’

Research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.

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Astana hosts 18th Iran-Kazakhstan Joint Economic Committee meeting

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Photo: Iranian Agriculture Minister Javad Sadati-Nejad (R) and Kazakh Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov sign MOU documents in Astana on Thursday.

The 18th meeting of Iran-Kazakhstan Joint Economic Committee meeting was held on Thursday in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana, at the end of which the two sides signed a comprehensive document to expand cooperation in numerous areas including trade, agriculture, environment, tourism, science, and technology, education and sports.

As IRIB reported, the two countries’ Joint Economic Committee meeting was co-chaired by Iranian Agriculture Minister Javad Sadati-Nejad and Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Alikhan Smailov.

Sadati-Nejad and Smailov held talks before the two countries’ joint meeting to discuss major areas that should be agreed upon in the event’s concluding document.

Speaking to the press after the joint committee meeting, Sadati-Nejad said that according to the signed memorandum of understanding (MOU), 30 percent of the trade between the two countries will be in the field of agricultural products.

According to the agriculture minister, the two countries are also going to establish a commercial-agricultural joint venture in order to develop trade in the Persian Gulf countries, Central Asia, and West Asia.

In this meeting, Amir Yousefi, the vice-chairman of the Agriculture Committee of Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (ICCIMA) also said that Kazakhstan is a good option for extraterritorial cultivation due to the good water conditions and the quality of soil, which should be considered by Iranian investors.

Reaching $3b of annual trade on agenda

Speaking on the sidelines of the meeting, Sadati-Nejad announced that the two countries have put an annual trade of three billion dollars on the agenda, expressing hope that signing the comprehensive MOU would pave the way for achieving this target.

“The presidents of the two countries have aimed to increase the level of trade to three billion dollars; currently this number is around 500 million dollars,” the minister said.

Mentioning the developments in the two countries’ banking relations, the official said that the expansion of relations in the agriculture sector is of special importance for both sides.

He further noted that a joint committee will be formed in the next month to pursue this goal, saying: “Kazakhstan has requested Iran’s engineering services in modern irrigation and desalination areas, and we have expressed our readiness to provide them with the mentioned services.”

Iranian trade center to be opened in Almaty

During the meeting of the two countries’ expert committees which was held prior to the main event on Wednesday, Amir Abedi, the head of the Iran-Kazakhstan Joint Chamber of Commerce, announced that the business office of Iran-Kazakhstan joint chamber will soon be opened in Almaty.

Pointing to the capacities of Iran and Kazakhstan for the development of economic relations, Abedi considered Kazakhstan’s market as a strategic destination for Iranian businessmen.

The 17th Iran-Kazakhstan joint economic committee meeting was held about a year ago in Tehran.

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