Experts at a webinar on Tuesday stressed the need for framing a comprehensive national logistics policy coupled with a dedicated authority to help facilitate cross-border trade.
Besides establishment and optimum use of logistics, they said, infrastructures like ports, highways and multimodal sub-regional transport connectivity are also essential in this regard.
They also called for automation, customs' modernisation and better coordination among the stakeholders as logistics ecosystem involves many entities of the public and private sectors.
The observations were made at a webinar on 'Logistics- issues and challenges in cross-border trade of Bangladesh' organised by Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI).
Dr. Rubana Huq, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), took part in the webinar as the guest of honour while DCCI president Shams Mahmud moderated it.
Dr Zaidi Sattar, chairman of Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh (PRI), Mahbubul Alam, president of Chittagong Chamber of Commerce & Industry, and Md. Zafar Alam, Member of Chittagong Port Authority, also spoke on the occasion.
Dr Selim Raihan, an economics professor at Dhaka University, in his keynote paper said Bangladesh's progress in the World Bank's Logistic Performance Index (LPI) lagged much behind.
Between 2007 and 2018, Bangladesh couldn't make progress at expected level whereas China, Vietnam, Thailand gained tremendous growth during the period, he said.
"Bangladesh is seriously lagging behind in the index compared to its competitors," said Mr Raihan.
He showed that better logistics performance also positively impacts several other economic indicators like per capita income, export diversification and FDI inflow.
Dr Raihan also suggested addressing the challenges of tariff and para-tariff issues including customs modernization.
He called for introducing full automation of port formalities, payment processes and harmonization of HS code and customs formalities.
Dr Zaidi Sattar said the government should realise that customs' role must be congenial to trade facilitation, not to revenue collection.
"As long as trade taxes continue to be a significant part of revenues, customs administration will continue to be a sort of barrier," he said, adding that no matter how much money is invested in improving customs logistics and modernisation.
Terming export competitiveness a relative concept, the eminent economist said: "Customs administration really needs to become a trade facilitating institution rather than a collector of tax." He also underscored the need for improving logistics 'at the border' and 'behind the border' for cross-border facilitation.
Dr Rubana Huq said the country needs to have an internal index of competitiveness which needs to be monitored regularly.
Regarding better coordination in the logistics sector, she called for the private sector's participation as all efforts are for the wellbeing of the country.
Abul Kasem Khan, Chairperson of Business Initiative Leading Development (BUILD), said logistics is a vast issue and there is no single authority to look after it.
"So, there should be a comprehensive logistics policy under a single authority or ministry to supervise all relevant issues."
He also urged the authority concerned to declare logistics a thrust sector in a bid to support trade. Mr Khan suggested allocating dedicated area for the logistics service providers in the country's special economic zones (SEZs).
Mr Shams Mahmud said logistics facilitation enhances the country's trade competitiveness through making on-time trading of goods and services with lower transaction costs.
"Despite remarkable economic progress, Bangladesh lags behind competing countries in terms of logistics infrastructure competitiveness."
The DCCI president noted that during the pandemic Bangladesh has so far witnessed 17 per cent of export fall in 2020 while global trade has fallen by 28 per cent as per the estimation.
Bangladesh ranks 100th in the Logistics Performance Index 2018, and 105th in the Global Competitiveness Index, he mentioned.
He also recommended automated customs clearance process, integrated port infrastructure with larger storage facility, handling facility and terminal.