Why Is Myanmar’s Rakhine And Bangladesh Getting Closer? – OpEd


Bangladesh’s ‘Great Independence and National Day’ was celebrated with great enthusiasm and enthusiasm at the Bangladesh Consulate at Sitte in Myanmar. A grand reception was organized at Sittwe on Sunday evening to mark the day.

The Rakhine State Government Ministers along with the Chief Minister of Rakhine participated in this event organized in spite of the ongoing civil war and deteriorating law and order situation in Myanmar. Besides, diplomats of the Indian Consulate, government officials of Rakhine State, members of political parties, officials of the United Nations and international organizations, journalists, lawyers, leaders of Rakhine Student Union, businessmen, and a significant number of dignitaries of Rakhine participated.

At the beginning of the event, Bangladesh Consulate Mission Chief Zakir Ahmed and Rakhine Chief Minister U Thein Lin laid wreaths at the portrait of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the Bangabandhu Corner installed at the venue and inspected the various indigenous handicrafts displayed at the Bangladesh Corner.

Later, the program was auspiciously started by the performance of the national anthems of both the countries. On the occasion, the Bangladesh Consulate screened a documentary on the development progress of the government. The Head of Mission gave a speech on the occasion of the Great Independence and National Day. After that, the great Independence and National Day was celebrated by cutting the cake.

In his speech, the Head of Mission mentioned the contribution of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the greatest Bengali father of the nation, to the development of the country called Bangladesh. At this time, he presented the success and development picture of Bangladesh government. Apart from this, he informed about the social, public welfare and constructive activities organized by the Consulate in Rakhine.

A wonderful cultural program is organized on the occasion of the day. Rakhine artists, Rakhine, Burmese and Bangladeshi dances were performed at the event. Apart from this, a fashion show of traditional clothes of Bangladesh and Jamdani sarees was organized with the members of the consulate, local artists and models.

It was decided to hold the event after Holy Ramadan, organized by the Bangladesh Consulate on the occasion of the Independence and National Day.

For the people of Bangladesh and Myanmar, there is positive news. It appears that the tense relations between Myanmar and Bangladesh are beginning to heal through using the Raine card.

Recently, Bangladesh and Myanmar have launched a bilateral pilot project to repatriate the Rohingya. Myanmar has dedicated 15 villages to repatriating Rohingya refugees from Cox’s Bazar. Initially, Myanmar will take 1000 Rohingya. A Myanmar delegation has already visited the camps in Cox’s Bazar.  The bilateral pilot project is initiated by Bangladesh and Myanmar. The initiative is largely backed by China. The country has become active recently to mitigate the dispute between Bangladesh and Myanmar over the Rohingya crisis. For more than two years now, Junta is administering the state of Myanmar. The international community and the great powers did little to pressurize the Junta to repatriate the Rohingya. Prior to Junta, the international community also failed to convince the democratic government to repatriate the Rohingya and bring the perpetrators to justice.

At this moment, Junta is formally in power, even though it faces a serious legitimacy crisis and resistance at home. But it is the only formal authority in Myanmar.

Bangladesh has been facing a refugee crisis for six years now. It has tried bilaterally, trilaterally, and multilaterally for the past six years for a viable solution. It has left no stone unturned, yet found nothing. Now as China is brokering the deal with approval from the UN, Bangladesh eagerly wants to explore the initiative as something is better than nothing. Moreover, Bangladesh can not remain indifferent to the Junta question. Owing to bilateral political, economic, connectivity, and economic issues, Bangladesh has to engage with the authority of Myanmar- that is Junta currently. Myanmar Junta and Bangladesh have already to mend their ties through cement diplomacy, medicine diplomacy, fish, slot and areca nut diplomacy.

 According to pro Myanmar government newspaper, Global New Light Of Myanmar, a dinner party marking the successful export of high-quality rice to Bangladesh was held in Nay Pyi Taw yesterday (April 05, 2023) The event was attended by Union Ministers Dr Kan Zaw, U Maung Maung Ohn, U Hla Moe and U Aung Naing Oo, Deputy Ministers U Kyaw Myo Htut, Daw Than Than Lin, Dr Aung Gyi and U Nyunt Aung, permanent secretaries, chairpersons of the Myanmar Rice Federation, Myanmar Rice Miller Association, Myanmar Rice and Paddy Traders Association, vice-chairpersons, executive members, entrepreneurs and invitees.

During the ceremony, Union Minister for Commerce U Aung Naing Oo said Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an MoU on rice trade under the G-to-G pact.
Then, Permanent Secretary Md Ismiel Hossail of the Ministry of Food of Bangladesh made a speech via the video clip and Myanmar Rice Federation Chairman U Ye Min Aung also remarked. Afterwards, all attendees had dinner together.

“Takes no account of current plight of rice farmers in Rakhine State” The Minister of Commerce, U Aung Naing Oo, announced that the exportation of rice grown in Rakhine State to Bangladesh will be allowed to be increased.

According to Military Council-controlled newspapers on April 4th, the Minister confirmed that a shipment of 200,000 tons of rice in total, including 2,500 tons grown in Rakhine State, has already been exported to Bangladesh.

Additionally, the Minister expressed plans for more rice exports from Rakhine State to Bangladesh in the future.

On April 3rd, during a meeting of the Working Committee on Social Economic Development in the Rakhine Region, the Minister delivered that statement at the meeting hall of the Ministry of Commerce in Naypyidaw. However, the Minister did not elaborate on how many more tons of rice will be allowed to be exported.

U Khin Maung Gyi, Vice President of Rakhine Economic Initiative Public Co., Ltd (REIC), commented that granting the permission to export rice produced in Rakhine State via Sittwe will prove to be beneficial for the local farmers and millers.

“Currently the majority of rice produced in Rakhine State is stuck within the domestic market, with most of it being exported to Yangon and regions bordering China. After subtracting general and travel expenses, the profit for Rakhine rice traders is often lower than expected. However, if the rice grown in Rakhine is permitted to be exported to Bangladesh or India, which are closer, stronger business opportunities will emerge, ultimately benefiting Rakhine State. That’s my opinion”, he told Narinjara.

U Khin Maung Gyi cautioned, “On the other hand due to the low inventory of rice held by farmers, these opportunities may result in greater benefits for rice entrepreneurs than for the farmers themselves.”

According to the Arakan Farmers’ Union, the last rice planting season in Rakhine State saw a decrease in rice yield of approximately 40 percent, as only 800,000 acres of land were able to be planted, due to the increased cost of importing fuel and other raw materials.

A Pauktaw farmer provided a good insight into the real situation on the ground commenting, “The rice that we are able to grow and produce was barely sufficient for our own consumption,

leaving us with no surplus to sell. After factoring in the expenses of labor hire, fuel, and fertilizer, there is almost no profit remaining. The remaining rice is solely meant for subsistence.”

Bangladesh and Myanmar governments were able to sign a memorandum of understanding to facilitate rice trading between the neighboring countries, on September 7th, 2017.Following the signing of the memorandum of understanding, Myanmar exported a total of 200,000 tons of rice, which included 2500 tons produced by Rakhine State, to Bangladesh.

The Myanmar government has expressed interest in importing potatoes from Bangladesh due to low prices. In the meantime, initially the country has started importing this from Bangladesh. As a result, as Bangladesh is able to increase its income through exports, Myanmar is also getting the benefit of buying potatoes at relatively low prices.

Recently, various varieties of local and foreign potatoes have entered the market in Yangon, bringing prices lower than before. The prices of large potatoes in particular have come down. The same picture was seen in Sinfukyun and Bhamo regional markets of the country. Due to the increase in exports of Shan potatoes exported from China and Bangladesh, the prices of potatoes in the market of the region have come down. Locals said the wholesale market has been heavily affected by the large size S1 and S2 potatoes imported into the region.

Bangladesh’s relations with Myanmar are deteriorating over the Rohingya issue. The largest influx of Rohingya refugees from the country to escape persecution by Myanmar’s military began in August 2017. However, in the midst of this tension, the two countries have continued bilateral trade relations to meet the needs of their domestic market. Earlier, Bangladesh imported rice from Myanmar in two rounds. Bangladesh signed an agreement with the country last September. A total of 250,000 tons of Atap rice and 50,000 tons of semi-boiled rice have been imported from Myanmar till 2027.

The most exported variety of potato in the Myanmar market in the last two years is Lalita. Mainly in Rangpur, Dinajpur, Kurigram and Comilla, the yield of this variety of potato is good. It was exported to Myanmar through Teknaf land port in Cox’s Bazar. There is a huge demand for Lalita variety of potatoes in the market of the country. Although the reason for this is mentioned, this variety of potato is cheaper in price. Another reason is that potato production in Rakhine has decreased due to the construction of barracks by the Myanmar security forces. In addition, the number of unemployed and poor people in the state has increased due to the conflict, which has increased the demand for cheap food in the country. And that’s why the country is forced to increase potato imports.

According to the information given by the customs authorities of Teknaf land port, at least 17 thousand tons of Lalita variety potatoes were exported to Myanmar through Teknaf port in fiscal year 2021-22, from which the export income to Bangladesh was Tk 12 crore 12 lakh. In the first three months of the current financial year (2022-23), from July to September, 119 tons of potatoes have been exported from Bangladesh to Myanmar, the market value of which is Tk 18 lakh.

International analysts see the rice-potato trade between the two countries as an accessory to bilateral diplomacy. Their expectation is that this commercial relationship can play a major role in solving the ongoing crisis between Bangladesh and Myanmar regarding the Rohingya.

Bangladesh’s relations with Myanmar are deteriorating over the Rohingya issue. The largest influx of Rohingya refugees from the country to escape persecution by Myanmar’s military began in August 2017. However, in the midst of this tension, the two countries have continued bilateral trade relations to meet the needs of their domestic market. 

It is heard the term ‘Myanmar-Bangladesh rice diplomacy recently through media platforms. The use of rice as a diplomatic tool has received global media coverage. despite Myanmar-Bangladesh tensions. There is nothing new to say about the influence of food on politics. It is really appreciable that Myanmar and Bangladesh have already started rice diplomacy to mend the ties. Now, time will say how fruitful Myanmar-Bangladesh rice diplomacy would be.

Myanmar and Bangladesh have started practicing their rice diplomacy. Myanmar supplies to Bangladesh will deepen their ties. This can be a great effort by both sides to build good relations with the Bangladeshi and Myanmar governments.

It will also build good bilateral relations between the people of Bangladesh and Myanmar. In the short term, the new generation on both sides wants better relations in terms of economy, tourism, etc.

There may be some problems between Bangladesh and Myanmar. However, these issues (Rohingya refugees and border issues) should be properly addressed by both sides. Bangladesh is going to become the economic miracle of South Asia. Bangladesh is praised by the international community in every international forum.

Ping-pong diplomacy led by China and the United States was set up to strengthen their relationship. We can also expect another application of ping-pong diplomacy similar to rice diplomacy.

Paddy’s diplomacy is a small initiative but its significance is huge. This small initiative will turn into a great achievement for both parties.

A high-level official visit could be a step to strengthen ties. The two prime ministers may exchange visits to normalize relations. This is good news for Myanmar and Bangladesh.

We can see the rice trade between the two countries as an accessory to bilateral diplomacy. Their expectation is that this commercial relationship can play a major role in solving the ongoing crisis between Bangladesh and Myanmar regarding the Rohingya. The largest influx of Rohingya refugees from the country to escape persecution by Myanmar’s military began in August 2017. In that year Bangladesh started importing rice from Myanmar for the first time. Imported for the second time in 2021. International observers are now calling the import of rice from the country as ‘rice diplomacy’. They hope that through this rice diplomacy, the two countries may be able to move forward in finding a solution to the ongoing crisis.

Harunur Rasid is a London-based Bangladeshi expatriate. A Bangladesh, Myanmar affairs observer, analyst, and researcher.

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