A New Era of Trade and Connectivity in Bangladesh
Maritime transport shaped the course of human history. Facilitating the flow of goods and ideas by sea, trading nations drove economic growth, created wealth, and increased access to everything from food and medicine to technology. Nearly five millennia after the first major trade routes formed along the Arabian Sea, maritime transport remains the backbone of the global economy.
Today, maritime transport accounts for over 80% of global trading volume.1 Nearly every good that we own or consume was loaded onto a cargo ship at some point and traveled thousands of miles of ocean before making its way into our lives. In turn, investments in port services and infrastructure are vital for economic growth.
Nine of the world’s 10 busiest ports are now in Asia.2 The region continues to dominate global maritime trade, with a 41% share of total goods loaded in 2020.3 While maritime powerhouses China and Singapore lead the way, the construction of the Matarbari Port—Bangladesh’s first deep seaport—promises new opportunities in South Asia that could reshape regional trade flows in the decades ahead.
Taking Trade to New Depths
Located in Cox’s Bazar District, the Matarbari Port addresses the key challenge that Bangladesh’s existing ports face: depth. The Chittagong port, which currently handles around 90% of the country’s imports and exports, has a shallow channel. Large ships must transfer their cargo to feeder vessels in Singapore and Sri Lanka to bring goods into Bangladesh and vice versa.
With a depth of 16.3 meters, the Matarbari Port will be able to accommodate cargo vessels, accelerating the flow of goods and reducing costs. Initially, the port will accommodate 8,500 TEU post-Panamax vessels.4 Following the second phase of construction, it will be able to handle 2.8 million TEUs per year.5 Upon completion, it will handle 4.8 million TEUs and 16-38 million tonnes of bulk cargo annually.6
On land, rail connectivity through Dohazari-Cox’s Bazaar line, and road connectivity with a national highway will further facilitate the flow of goods in and out of Bangladesh. Once operating at its full potential, the port could boost GDP by up to 3%, according to the secretary of Bangladesh’s Shipping Ministry.7
In December 2020, the Venus Triumph became the first commercial ship to reach the Matarbari port with the help of a tugboat. As of now, ships are anchoring at the jetties built for the Matarbari Power Plant—another mega infrastructure project that will power growth across the region. In 2021, a total of 53 ships anchored at the power plant jetties, saving an estimated $3.58 million through lower vessel fares and shorter waiting times.
While the Matarbari Port is not scheduled to open until late 2026, some vessels are already reaping the benefits. In the years ahead, the port will become a vital trading artery, propelling Bangladesh towards its vision of high-income status by 2021.
2 Llyods List
4 Dhaka Tribune
5 DLCA, Dhaka Tribune
6 DLCA, Dhaka Tribune
7 Daily Star