ISSN 2330-717X

Sri Lanka-Maldives-Bangladesh’s Cooperation In South Asia – OpEd

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Maldives and Bangladesh both are South Asian countries. Maldives and Bangladesh established diplomatic relations on 22 September 1978.  That was the starting point. The relations between two South Asian countries are increasing day by day.  Maldives President Ibrahim Mohammed Saleh’s visit to Bangladesh in March, 2021 added multidimensionality to the two countries. Because the country has expressed its determination to work together with Dhaka on bilateral, regional and international issues. Not only that, a total of six Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) has been signed between Dhaka-Male within a month; Of which four have been completed in the presence of the President during his visit to Dhaka to mark the Birth Centenary celebration of Founder of Bangladesh Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib in March.  

The Indo-Pacific Strategy (IPS), a new dimension in the region’s diplomacy, shares Bangladesh’s ideological aspirations with Maldives, the geopolitically important country. For this reason, the country intends to work together with Bangladesh while maintaining peace and stability. At the same time, the two countries have agreed to increase connectivity by air and sea.  

Bangladesh can extend technical support to the Maldives on human resources development and healthcare.   “Bangladesh can share our health sector experiences with the Maldives as Bangladesh has set up community clinics to ensure primary healthcare services. So, Bangladesh can help the Maldives in this regard.

Bangladesh can cooperate in higher education and development of human resources, training and capacity building, particularly for the health sector of Maldives. Maldives can benefit from importing world-class healthcare, garments, processed food, agro products, household appliances, construction materials, eco-friendly jute, leather, plastic, ceramic and light-engineering products from Bangladesh at competitive prices. On the other hands, Maldives can invest Bangladesh in tourism sector. It has huge experience in tourism sector. Bangladesh and Maldives can sign a free trade agreement to boost up trade.  

Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohammed Saleh arrived in Dhaka on a two-day visit on the occasion of Bangabandhu’s birth centenary and golden jubilee of independence. During his bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, four MoUs were signed between Bangladesh and Maldives. The memoranda include the formation of a Joint Commission (JCC), regular meetings at the Foreign Secretary level, assistance in the extraction of marine resources and cultural exchanges.  

The two leaders also discussed bilateral trade, customs co-operation and avoidance of double taxation, investment, migration issues, human resource and youth development, education, health care and medicine, agriculture, tourism, Rohingya issues, climate change issues and natural disasters. And mitigation. The two top leaders also agreed to expand mutual cooperation on these issues.  

There are huge sectors of potentials to work together such as tourism, tackling covid-19, counter-terrorism approach, maritime cooperation, Climate change issue, fishing, supporting each other at common regional and international fora. Maldives always supports the stance of Bangladesh regarding Rohingya refugees’ repatriation, relocation of Rohingyas to Bashanchar. These are very appreciable. The Government of Maldives sent gift of 200,000 Covid-19 vaccines for the people of Bangladesh. 

The average volume of the country’s exports to Maldives is $6 million while imports amount to $50 million. The two countries want to augment their cooperation on climate issues, tourism, trade and human resources development. 

The Maldives bilateral relations with Bangladesh and the maritime cooperation with Bangladesh in the Indian Ocean in terms of a regional cooperation or connectivity will give a new dimension to Maldives’ assistance there. Bangladesh is going to become a full member of Colombo Security block.  All in all, it will benefit mutual diplomacy and the economic and other interests of bilateral relations between both parties. The Maldivian economy is not very big, but it has geopolitical advantages and diplomatic importance.  The people of Bangladesh and Maldives would benefit ultimately. Bangladesh-Maldives ties would be more fraternal.  

On the other hand, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka can increase cooperation in various fields including pharmaceuticals, IT, agriculture, maritime security and disaster management. Dhaka has expressed keen interest to provide training to Sri Lankans in paddy production, climate adaptation, disaster management and IT and urged Colombo to extend training programmes for Bangladeshis on marine fisheries and nursing.

According to 2019 data of the Export Promotion Bureau, the annual trade volume between the countries is about $ 130 million. Of this, Sri Lanka exported goods worth $ 98.6 million and Bangladesh’s exports totalled $ 37 million. This volume could be increased easily if they sign a trade agreement. Sri Lankan investors can invest more in Bangladesh’s special economic zones, industrial parks as well as high-tech parks. 

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina paid a six-day visit to the Maldives from December 22 to December 27, 2021. This visit was fruitful to strengthen the mutual ties between the two countries.  Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to the Maldives has great importance. Through this visit, efforts were made to expand trade and investment cooperation between Bangladesh and the Maldives, consolidate and expand Bangladesh’s labour market, regularise irregular workers, and increase cooperation in health and education so that Bangladesh’s service sector can expand. The linkage between Bangladesh and the Maldives in South Asia has become closer.

Mutual strengths 

On the other hand, according to media reports, the Maldives and Sri Lanka had been enjoying a unique friendship born of traditional ties in ethnicity, language and culture. These bonds signified historical ties that date back hundreds of years. The relationship had been served well by geographic proximity, frequent travel and brisk trade.

According to the data of Maldives High commission to Sri Lanka, the Maldives – Sri Lanka Joint Commission was established in 1984 under the Agreement on Economic and Technical Co-operation between the two countries. Six sessions of the Commission have been held to date. The last Session of the Maldives – Sri Lanka Joint Commission was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka on 10 September 2014. The Joint Commission deliberated on several issues of importance to both countries, including economic cooperation, fisheries, tourism, education, health, youth and skills development, sports, employment, consular and community issues, legal and law enforcement, regional cooperation, culture and cooperation at international and multinational fora.

However, diplomatic relations between the two countries were established on July 26, 1965 – the date of independence of the Maldives. The Maldives and Sri Lanka were the founding members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Bi-lateral cooperation agreements existed in a variety of fields, including education, defense, air services, cultural cooperation, visa and consular matters, economic and technical cooperation, science and technology, seafaring and intelligence sharing.

bilateral trade between Sri Lanka and Maldives had been growing rapidly in the midst of competitive markets in the region. Sri Lanka’s main exports to the Maldives included processed food, insulated wires and cables, fresh fruits and vegetables, confectioneries and bakery products.

Bangladesh can share with Sri Lanka its experiences in agriculture (particularly in rice farming and freshwater fisheries), emergency response, disaster management, climate adaptation and mitigation. Bangladesh can obtain technical knowhow from Sri Lanka in coastal, aquaculture, marine culture and deep-sea fishing. In the education sector, both countries should have more institutionalized cooperation in capacity building, vocational training and skill development.

In the health sector, Bangladesh can put emphasis on the core training of its nurses and other professionals in Sri Lanka. Colombo may benefit immensely by importing Bangladeshi pharmaceutical products and medical devices in greater quantities.  Bangladesh also makes garments, cement, paper, electrical items and jute goods, which are in high demand in Sri Lanka. Investors from both countries should come forward to exchange experiences.  

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Pathik Hasan

Pathik Hasan is a Dhaka-based NGO activist, researcher and freelance writer on contemporary international issues whose work has been published in many local and international publications. Academic background: BSS (Peace and Conflict Studies) and MSS (International Relations) under the University of Dhaka. He can be reached at [email protected]

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