Maitri Setu: A bridge to enhance regional connectivity and trade

The India-Bangladesh Friendship Bridge, or ‘Maitri Setu’, symbolizes the further strengthening of bilateral trade relations. Scheduled to open for passenger movement in September, the 1.9-km bridge over the Feni River connects Sabroom in south Tripura to Ramgarh in Bangladesh. This significant development will enhance connectivity in India’s northeastern region, positioning Tripura as a gateway to the Northeast India and Southeast Asia.


India and Bangladesh have strong and enduring bonds rooted in a common history, language, culture, and many other similarities. In an effort to further strengthen the bilateral relations, India-Bangladesh Friendship Bridge, or the ‘Maitri Setu’ was inaugurated (virtually) by PM Narendra Modi in March 2021. 

According to Kiran Gitte, Secretary of Tripura’s Industries and Commerce Department, Maitri Setu is scheduled to open for passenger movement by September this year. Subsequently, it will take a further two or three months to introduce goods movement.

The 1.9-km-long ‘Maitri Setu’ is built over Feni river that connects Sabroom district in south Tripura to Ramgarh in Bangladesh. Work on Maitri Setu started in June 2017, and it is fully funded by the central government. Its construction was undertaken by the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd, at a project cost of Rs. 133 crores.

India-Bangladesh bilateral trade

Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia. India, on the other hand, is Bangladesh’s second-largest trading partner and largest export destination in Asia. Exports to Bangladesh were valued at US$ 11.1 billion in 2023-24 (5-year CAGR of 3.7%), while imports reached US$ 1.8 billion (5-year CAGR of 12.5%, DGCIS).  It is to be noted that exports to Bangladesh reached the peak at US$ 16.15 billion in 2022, but have declined in subsequent years.

India Bangladesh trade_TPCI

It is reported that trade activity has been impacted due to Bangladesh’s forex shortages and liquidity crunch. In addition, the stricter rules, such as raising the margin on letters of credit from 10% to 110%, have also been a major concern for traders.

Major commodities exported to Bangladesh include-

Bamboo Muli, Betel leave, Broken Glass, Ceramic & wooden statue, Citrus fruit, Coal (Meghalaya origin), Dry Chili, Dry Fish, Ginger, Lime Quick (MT), Onion, Orange, Tomato, Turmeric, Plywood, Stainless steel products, and Stone. 

As per the data, exports in commodities like edible vegetables and certain roots and tubers, tea, coffee, mate and spices, residues and waste from the food industries, mineral fuels, mineral oils and cotton, witnessed a positive growth in 2024 as against the previous year. Whereas, commodities including nuclear reactors, boilers, machinery and mechanical appliances; Vehicles; and Iron and steel,  witnessed a decline in exports during the year.

The following table shows export values of some major commodities exported from India to Bangladesh in 2023-2024.

Top exported chapters from India to Bangladesh

HS Code Commodity 2022-23 2023-24 % growth (YoY)
52 Cotton. 2,028.86 2,368.8 16.76
27 Mineral fuels… 1,927.63 2,307.8 19.72
23 Residues and waste from food industries… 510.3 674.4 32.16
87 Vehicles… 726.8 603.4 -16.98
84 Nuclear reactors, boilers, machinery… 698.4 544.4 -22.05
07 Edible vegetables… 282.58 397.5 40.66
29 Organic chemicals 352.14 374.5 6.34
09 Coffee, tea, mate and spices. 231.93 304.5 31.28
72 Iron and steel 321.54 289.1 -10.09
76 Aluminium and articles thereof. 254.89 284.8 11.72

Source: Department of Commerce, (Values in US$ million)

How important is Maitri Setu?

The opening of Maitri Setu marks a significant development in terms of connectivity in India’s northeastern region. The strategically located state of Tripura will strengthen its credentials as a key gateway to the northeastern region of India on one hand, and Southeast Asia on the other. The bridge represents strengthening of bilateral relations and deepening of friendly ties between India and Bangladesh. 

The bridge will facilitate transportation of goods from West Bengal to Northeast India through the Chittagong and Mongla Ports in Bangladesh. Given that Bangladesh’s Chittagong port is barely 80 kilometers away from Tripura’s last border town Sabroom, the flow of goods across the bridge is considered important not only for the state but also for the entire northeast region. The bridge also connects to the Matarbari deep sea port in Bangladesh. 

Further, the bridge will enhance transport links and foster greater economic and cultural exchanges, thus playing a crucial role in regional integration and development. The opening of Maitri Setu not only enhances connectivity within India’s northeastern region but also provides landlocked countries like Bhutan and Nepal with direct access to the Bay of Bengal.

Additionally, the bridge opens a new maritime route from Kolkata to Chittagong, providing a faster alternative to the Sittwe Port-Kaladan route. The Indian-built Sittwe port, located in the Rakhine state of Myanmar, was inaugurated in May 2023. The Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Corridor links the port to Mizoram in northeastern India. The corridor also includes India’s broader engagement with the thriving economies of Southeast Asia.

Maitri Setu, addressing NE India’s connectivity challenges

India’s northeast, a region rich in natural resources, has long struggled with inadequate connectivity. The northeast region contributes about 2.8% to the nation’s GDP, barely tapping its vast potential. 

Being a landlocked region, the NE economy has faced significant challenges when it comes to supply and trade. Its only link to the rest of India is a narrow 22-kilometer Siliguri Corridor, commonly referred to as the “chicken neck.” The presence of a single freight corridor through the Siliguri Corridor makes it susceptible to any unexpected interruption or breakdown. 

This limited connection results in unnecessarily lengthy trade routes and road journeys. For example, traveling from Agartala in Tripura to the nearest port in Kolkata requires a 1,600-kilometer road journey through Siliguri. 

A significant portion of the overall exports from the Northeastern states is shipped through border points within the region. This is attributed to the landlocked nature of the Northeast, necessitating that export consignments pass through seaports and airports located outside the region.

Maitri Setu offers a direct access for Tripura to the seaport of Chittagong through Ramgarh, enhancing trade link between the Rest of India with NE and NE and Bangladesh. (India’s border with Bangladesh stretches for 4,096.7 km. Of this, 1,880 km is shared by four Northeastern states—Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram—while the remaining 2,216.7 km is shared with West Bengal.)

Among the key industries that are likely to experience positive impacts of improved trade links include Bamboo industry (nearly two-fifths of India’s bamboo stock is located in the Northeast region), Tourism (developing of tourist circuits, homestays and viewpoints), and food processing (boosted by Northeast region’s surplus agricultural and horticultural produce).

The Maitri Setu will provide the fastest land route to connect the India’s landlocked North East region via Sabroom to the Chittagong port, facilitating passenger movement from both countries. It will enable travel from Bangladesh’s southern districts, including Cox’s Bazar and the Chattogram Hill Tracts, to India via Tripura, as well as facilitate international cargo movement from the Chattogram seaport. Currently people from Bangladesh and Tripura commute through two integrated check points (ICP)– Akhaura (Agartala) and Srimantapur (Sonamura) – which connect central part of Bangladesh including Dhaka.

The robust bilateral relations between India and Bangladesh showcase a comprehensive partnership that surpasses a mere strategic alliance, built on trust and mutual understanding. The Friendship Bridge has unlocked new opportunities for trade and communication between Southeast Asian countries and India’s northeastern region, providing a crucial connectivity link to the Bay of Bengal. 

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