Possibilities of economic cooperation

The Bangladesh Government has taken the initiative to export 21 products to Sri Lanka with the duty-free facility. At the same time, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have started work to expand bilateral trade, increase investment, and develop the shipping and tourism industries.

Ready-made garments, medicines, jute and jute products, ceramics, juices, food products, vegetables, pepper, construction materials, melamine, paper and paper boards, flowers, plastic products, leather and leather products, shoes, soybean oil, potatoes, fertilizers and cosmetics are included in the export list, as there is a huge demand for them in the Sri Lankan market. 

This time the Government is working to get the duty-free market facility for the export of these products. Sri Lanka is becoming increasingly important in increasing regional trade. As a result of various official initiatives, Bangladesh’s trade relations with Sri Lanka will be further strengthened. The Government is playing an important role in increasing trade and investment by maintaining friendly relations between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has already allowed Bangladesh to use the strategic seaport of Hambantota. This proposal is a huge opportunity for Bangladesh. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have a trade volume of US$ 61 million. The Government is thinking of increasing it. Apart from this, the Government is also thinking of providing various facilities to bring investment to Sri Lanka. The Chittagong Port has historic connectivity with the Colombo Port. Using the Hambantota Port, Bangladesh can reach Central Asia, West Asia, Eurasia, Russia and China through the utilization of Pakistan’s Gwadar Port, Iran’s Chabahar Port and the International North-South Economic Corridor. 

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa visited Bangladesh to mark the birth centenary of its founding father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh’s Independence. He met with Premier Sheikh Hasina.

The summit meeting between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa agreed to take trade relations between the two countries to new heights. The meeting also saw the signing of six Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) on bilateral cooperation. 

Various regional and international issues were discussed during the one-hour bilateral summit. In particular, the two countries have agreed to take trade relations to new heights. During the meeting, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stressed the need for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries, saying the amount of trade between the two countries is less than expected. For increasing this amount, both sides should quickly go for a FTA.

According to the Bangladesh (Central) Bank, Bangladesh’s foreign trade with Sri Lanka is very low. In the 2019-20 financial year, only goods worth BTK 473 Crore were imported from Sri Lanka to Bangladesh. In the same financial year, only BTK 325 Crore worth of goods were exported from Bangladesh. Bangladesh has signed a trade agreement with Bhutan in this regard. Now the people of Bangladesh and Bhutan are getting mutual benefits. If a FTA is signed, then only the sky would be the limit regarding Bangladesh-Sri Lanka business relations. 

There is potential for many Bangladeshi products to be exported to Sri Lanka. Moreover, there are huge possibilities for Sri Lankan products to be exported to Bangladesh. It is time to address the need to increase the participation of the private sector in the two countries. Sri Lankan entrepreneurs should invest in Bangladesh to enhance their business prospects. 

Sri Lanka has invested in Bangladesh’s power sector. Some opportunities are waiting for Sri Lankan investors to invest more in Bangladesh’s Special Economic Zones (SEZs), industrial parks and high-tech parks.

The exchange of experiences between the two countries in the field of agriculture (including paddy cultivation and freshwater fish farming), tourism, cricket diplomacy and Covid-19 vaccine diplomacy are some potential sectors for both parties. Bangladesh has an interest in acquiring technical knowledge from Sri Lanka on coastal, aquaculture, marine culture and deep-sea fishing. More institutional cooperation in the field of education for technical training and skill development can strengthen the ties between the two nations.

The training of Bangladeshi nurses and other health workers in Sri Lanka can complement the import of world class medicines by Sri Lanka from Bangladesh. Bangladesh has always taken its relations with Sri Lanka seriously. Bangladesh is producing capable electronics which are now available in Nepal. Sri Lanka too can import these electronics to fulfill the demands of its people.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa praised the digital transformation of Bangladesh under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and emphasized the importance of increasing trade and expanding the scope of business between the two countries. He lauded the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic. He expressed interest in exchanging experiences on the Blue-Economy and Disaster Management.

The Colombo Security Conclave has brought opportunities for both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in the sphere of maritime security. Bangladesh has already proved that it is a true friend and well-wisher of Sri Lanka. Maritime trade can boost these ties.

Sri Lanka has been suffering from a foreign exchange reserve crisis in recent times. At present, the country has only US$ 4 billion in foreign exchange reserves. With this reserve, it is not possible to meet their import expenses for three to four months. In order to keep the reserves risk-free, at least three months of import expenditure has to be kept equal.

Bangladesh has decided to lend US$ 250 million to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka from its foreign exchange reserves. To this end, the Bangladesh Bank is going to sign a MoU with the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. According to Sri Lankan media outlets, Bangladesh has already disbursed US$ 50 million to Sri Lanka. Bangladesh will pave the way to go ahead with new multi-dimensional economic relations.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is keen to strengthen ties with all South Asian States. She is very interested in the ‘economy diplomacy’ of Bangladesh. She has ordered all Government officials to ensure that. Maritime trade and a blue economy are another point in her agenda. There is a huge potential in the Bay of Bengal area in the case of marine resources. Sri Lanka can assist Bangladesh in this sector.

This is a little initiative taken by Bangladesh. But its significance is huge. This little cooperation would boost ties between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Bangladesh is going to be an Asian Miracle.

Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are both South Asian countries. Both States should strengthen their business interests for mutual benefit.  

(M.D. Pathik Hasan is a Dhaka based NGO activist and writer on contemporary international issues.

He can be contacted at pathikhasan1141@gmail.com.)

– Daily News Sri Lanka

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