ISSN 2330-717X

Sri Lanka Could Benefit From Myanmar-Bangladesh Ties – OpEd

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Myanmar is one of Bangladesh’s closest neighbors with historic connectivity going back centuries. The 271 km long Bangladesh-Myanmar border is very important for Bangladesh due to its strategic position, although at present the area is militarized due to its ongoing internal conflicts. Were this to be resolved, Bangladesh could develop routes via Myanmar to access China to the east, and other southeast Asian countries to the south. 

On the other hand, Sri Lanka is a one of the stakeholders in the region. Although Sri Lanka is a South Asian Island state, Sri Lanka is very closed to Bangladesh and Myanmar geographically. Sri Lanka can be able to access in Southeast Asia through Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand. There is a huge potential of Lankan products in the regional markets. If Sri Lanka connects itself with Bangladesh-Myanmar-Thailand-India connectivity project and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar connectivity corridor, Sri Lanka Could benefit. A huge potential is waiting for Sri Lanka. If the two projects can be implemented truly, Sri Lanka will be also gainer in this regard. Bangladesh-Myanmar improved ties is very needed in this regard. Sri Lanka is a very friendly country to both Myanmar and Bangladesh 

Sri Lanka can also use Bangladesh, Myanmar as a transportation route to reach markets such as Nepal, Bhutan, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar all are members of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), an organization consisting of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Thailand that seeks to foster regional and economic cooperation. Sri Lanka can and should utilize BIMSTEC as a common regional platform to reap the benefits. Being a maritime hub between South East Asian and South Asian country, Sri Lanka can use the routes to enter South Asia and South East Asia through the use of the Bay of Bengal and Indian ocean easily through Myanmar and Bangladesh. Then it would be able to bolster its trade ties with South Asia, South East Asia (SAARC and ASEAN free trade of zones)

Bangladesh is a Southeast Asian country and can be used as an important hub to connect ASEAN and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).  members of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka is difficult. Myanmar too, as an ASEAN member, can access the SAARC free-trade bloc through Bangladesh. Such a way, Sri Lanka would benefit economically to boost up their trade ties. Sri Lanka will be able to ensure its maximum business interest. Sri Lanka can access into the market of North East India, Nepal, Bhutan, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam through Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand.

Myanmar and Bangladesh have also resolved a dispute over their maritime borders through the International Court of Justice. As a result, the rights of Bangladesh have been established in an area of 1,11,000 square kilometers. Myanmar’s waters have also been properly identified. Bangladesh-Myanmar-Thailand-Sri Lanka has potential to invest in maritime business in the Bay of Bengal. These countries should utilize and extract the maritime resource from the maritime zone. Blue economy can bring benefit for Bangladesh-Sri Lanka-Myanmar-Vietnam-Thailand also.

The proposed construction of the Asian Highway, funded by the Asian Development Bank can increase land connectivity between the two countries and increase trade in products such as fertilizers, plastics, cement, and furniture, etc. Sri Lanka should and can join the project to ensure its maximum business interest. Sri Lankan entrepreneurs can utilize to ensure their business interest by investing in Bangladesh’s agriculture, garment factories, food processing, shipbuilding, electronics, leather, jute, light engineering and handicraft industries.

Myanmar and Sri Lanka which at present does have sophisticated manufacturing, can import electronics and pharmaceutical products that are readily produced from Bangladesh and benefit from the technology transfer. Bangladesh-Myanmar-Sri Lanka has potential of agro products and fishery production, blue economy. Trilateral effort is very needed here. Bangladeshi medicines, agricultural products garments, footwear and leather goods, knitwear, pharmaceuticals, tableware, home textiles, textiles, seafood and marine products, tea, potatoes, jute and jute products, light engineering products, spices, cosmetics and ceramics, Toilets, etc. can be exported easily to South East Asia through Myanmar and Thailand. Sri Lanka can benefit from the improved ties between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

But one of the major problems is the lack of adequate transport links for the expansion of bilateral trade between the two countries. Both countries are working to resolve this transportation issue (smooth maritime connectivity). All should remain in the process of joining the Asian Highway Network, which is expected to address this issue. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are longstanding friends and connected by the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and maritime routes, Bangladesh-Myanmar -Sri Lanka should intensify cooperation in trade, investment and regional connectivity.

According to Bangladeshi media outlets. Bangladesh-Myanmar-Sri Lanka trilateral relations matters for ensuring great regional interest. Huge growth is possible in trilateral trade amongst the three nations.  Bangladesh will able to create a dedicated economic zone for Sri Lankan investors, and pledge to extend all-out support. Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka can Boost cooperation under the BIMSTEC framework. 

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. On the other hands, Sri Lanka-Myanmar trade ties have been established since 1999, with Myanmar exporting rice, wood, pulses and beans, gems, jewelry, natural rubber, and fisheries products. Sri Lanka exports rice, maize, apparel, paints, rubber, porcelain products etc.

Maritime trade is an important contributor to the economies of many countries, especially those located at sea. Sri Lanka is geographically located close to the main east-west sea route which creates multiple logistical advantages over the adjoining countries. This paper considers maritime trade dependence between Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka focusing on potential impacts and a future outlook.

China is now the biggest investor in Myanmar. China has invested over US$3 billion since the 2016-2017 fiscal year. One of the most strategic components of these investments is the US$1.3 billion Kyaukphyu deep seaport, which when completed, can provide China’s Yunnan province a shortcut to the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh can extract some benefits from the investments for its own gain.

The country’s biggest economic advantage for Myanmar is that they are a member of ASEAN. ASEAN controls about 24 percent of total world trade and its share in world trade is growing yearly. ASEAN’s trade relations with China, Japan, and South Korea are deepening due to the increase in trade and the upcoming RCEP agreement. ASEAN countries account for more than 50 percent of total trade between themselves and these three countries. 

Bangladesh is keen to provide assistance to Myanmar. Covid-19 vaccine distribution and counter-terrorism training are some areas for cooperation. The Rohingya refugee problem has, however, created some tension between the two countries, and find the solution can serve the longer-term interests of Bangladesh and Myanmar even Sri Lanka also. Myanmar and Bangladesh should solve this problem to serve its own and reginal interest. Myanmar should understand that it is the issue of the region. Whole South Asia and South East Asia may be volatile and unstable for this problem. 

Sri Lanka can play a very significant role in this regard. Sri Lanka can mediate to bolster the strained relations between Bangladesh-Myanmar. Sri Lanka can play to repatriate the Rohingyas in Rakhine in Myanmar. Sri Lanka can easily solve the problem because it has a very good relations with Myanmar. However, Sri Lanka can support for Bangladesh’s issue in the ASEAN Sectoral Partnership. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka can closely cooperate in different regional forums including BISMTEC, ARF, SAARC and multilateral forums including UN, WTO and ITU. Both states as regional stake holders should try their level best to join the ASEAN as a regional platform. 

However, the three countries can also increase production in the agricultural sector through joint ventures. Apart from adopting joint investment projects, Bangladesh can increase imports of various agricultural products including pulses, spices, fish and rice. Thus, enhancing trilateral relations could contribute to the growth of trade and investment relations with SAARC, ASEAN and BIMSTEC countries. This will create an opportunity to solve the Rohingya problem and stop militant activities. Therefore, Myanmar should take effective steps to strengthen bilateral relations to connect the South East Asia with South Asia. Sri Lanka should and can play an effective role to motivate Myanmar to bolster ties with Bangladesh. Benefit is waiting not only for Myanmar but also for Sri Lanka..

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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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