By Pathik Hasan
The government has taken initiative to export 21 products from Bangladesh to Sri Lanka with duty free facility. At the same time, Bangladesh-Sri Lanka has 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, peppers, construction materials, melamine, paper and paper boards, flowers, plastic products, leather and leather products, shoes, soybean oil, potatoes, fertilizers and cosmetics. There is a huge demand in the Sri Lankan market.
This time the government is working to get 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 that country 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 seaport of Hambantota. This proposal is a huge opportunity for Bangladesh. Bangladesh-Sri Lanka has a trade volume of US 61 million. The government is thinking of increasing it further. Apart from this, the government is also thinking of providing various facilities to bring investment to Sri Lanka. Chittagong port has historic connectivity with Colombo port. Now using Hambantota port, Bangladesh can reach Central Asia, West Asia, Eurasia, Russia, Chia through utilization of Pakistan’s Gwadar port, Iran’s Chabahar port, The International North South Economic Corridor.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Rajapaksa visited Bangladesh to mark the birth centenary of Its Founder Father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh’s Independence. He met with Premier Sheikh Hasina.
The summit meeting between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa agreed to take trade relations between the two countries to new heights. The meeting also signed six memoranda of understanding 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 on the need for a free trade agreement between the two countries, saying the amount of trade between the two countries is less than expected. For this, both sides should quickly go for a free trade agreement.
According to the Bangladesh Bank, Bangladesh’s foreign trade with Sri Lanka is very low. In the 2019-20 financial year, only goods worth Tk 473 crore were imported from Sri Lanka to Bangladesh. In the same financial year, only Tk 325 crore worth of goods were exported from Bangladesh. Bangladesh has signed the trade agreement with Bhutan in this regard. Now the People of Bangladesh and Bhutan are getting mutual benefit. If a trade agreement is signed, then only sky would be limit regarding Bangladesh-Sri Lanka business relations
There have many bright potentials of many Bangladeshi products in the Sri Lankan market. On the contrary, there have huge possibilities of Lankan products in Bangladesh. Now it is high 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 serve their own business interest.
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, industrial parks and high-tech parks.
Exchange of experiences between the two countries in the field of agriculture including paddy cultivation and freshwater fish farming, tourism, cricket diplomacy, Covid-19 vaccine diplomacy are some potential sectors for both parties. Bangladesh has 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.
The training of Bangladeshi nurses and other health workers in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka could benefit by importing world class medicines from Bangladesh. Bangladesh has always taken its relations with Sri Lanka seriously. Bangladesh is producing capable electronics. Bangladesh electronics are available in Nepal now. Sri Lanka can import these to fulfill the demands of its people.
Even, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Rajapaksa praised the digital transformation of Bangladesh under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and emphasized on increasing trade and expanding the scope of business between the two countries. He lauded the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in tackling the Kavid-19 epidemic. He expressed interest in exchanging experiences on Blue-Economy and Disaster Management.
Colombo Security Conclave has brought opportunities for both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka for maritime security. Bangladesh has already proved itself that Bangladesh is a true friend and well-wisher of Sri Lanka. Maritime trade can boost up the ties.
Sri Lanka has been suffering from a foreign exchange reserve crisis in recent times. At present, they have only 500 million in foreign exchange reserves. With this reserve, it is not possible to meet their import expenses for 3 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 250 million to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka from its foreign exchange reserves. To this end, Bangladesh Bank is going to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. According to Sri Lankan media outlets, Bangladesh has already disbursed 50 million US dollars to Sri Lankan authority. Bangladesh will pave the way to go ahead of new multi-dimensional economic relations.
The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina is very keen to strengthen ties with all South Asian States. She is very interested in ‘Economy Diplomacy’ of Bangladesh. She ordered all government officials to ensure that. Maritime trade and blue economy are another point of her agenda. There are potentials in Bay of Bengal area in 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 the ties between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. However, Bangladesh is going to be an Asian Miracle. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are both South Asian countries. Both states should strengthen their business interest for serving the mutual benefit.
*MD Pathik Hasan, Dhaka based NGO activist and Writer on contemporary international issues. He can be reached at [email protected]