Multifaceted Bilateral Engagements Between Bangladesh And Thailand Forging Diplomatic Concord – Analysis


On April 26, 2024, Bangladesh and Thailand agreed to five bilateral agreements concerning visa exemption, cooperation in energy, tourism, customs matters, and the negotiation of a free trade agreement (FTA). These agreements, including an agreement, three memorandums of understanding (MoUs), and a Letter of Intent (LOI), were signed during a meeting between Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Thai counterpart Srettha Thavisin at Government House (Thai Prime Minister’s Office) in Bangkok.

The diplomatic ties between Bangladesh and Thailand were established in 1972, with subsequent efforts to fortify bilateral relations rooted in religious, cultural, and linguistic affinities, as well as shared commitments to democracy, development, and international peace and security. Notable milestones include Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s visit to Bangladesh in 2012 and visits by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. Ministerial interactions, such as those between Minister Kasit Piromya and then Foreign Minister Dr. Dipu Moni, have further strengthened ties. In March 2023, the 3rd Foreign Office Consultations discussed various aspects of bilateral relations, emphasizing political, economic, social, and cultural cooperation. Both countries pledged to elevate their relations, reviewing collaboration in trade, investment, healthcare, tourism, defense, and more.

The 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties in 2022 was commemorated with joint events, highlighting sustained momentum through regular visits and consultations. A reception in October 2022 celebrated the 50th anniversary, attended by the then Foreign Minister Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen. Despite a trade deal signed in 1997 and consistent growth in bilateral trade, discussions on a free trade agreement (FTA) have surfaced, though Bangladesh may defer signing FTAs with Southeast and South Asian countries. The easing of travel restrictions in Thailand has led to an increase in Bangladeshi tourists, contributing significantly to Thailand’s economy, particularly in the medical tourism sector. In 2019, about 4,300 Bangladeshi citizens contributed approximately 6.7 billion Thai baht to Thailand’s economy. 

The bilateral trade between Bangladesh and Thailand has shown consistent growth over the years, despite fluctuations and challenges. In 2022, Bangladesh exported goods worth $84 million to Thailand, while Thailand’s exports to Bangladesh amounted to $1.11 billion. This marked a significant increase from the previous year, with bilateral trade totaling $1.194 billion. The year 2021 saw Bangladesh exporting goods valued at $54.84 million to Thailand, while Thailand exported goods worth $1,231.9 million to Bangladesh, resulting in a total bilateral trade of $1,286.74 million. The trend continued in 2020, with Bangladesh exporting goods worth $50.82 million to Thailand and Thailand exporting goods worth $859.23 million to Bangladesh, resulting in a total bilateral trade of $910.05 million. It is evident that the bilateral trade volume has been significant, reaching as high as $1.317 billion in 2017. Despite challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, bilateral trade between Thailand and Bangladesh surged by over 40% in 2021 compared to the preceding year, showcasing a resilient trade relationship.

The recent bilateral agreements between Bangladesh and Thailand reflect a strategic diversification effort by the government, aimed at strengthening ties and fostering deeper integration with East and Southeast Asia. By forging robust connections with Thailand, Bangladesh is strategically positioning itself to enhance its presence in the broader East Asian region. These agreements signify a deliberate move towards expanding economic, diplomatic, and cultural linkages beyond traditional partners, towards forging new partnerships in East and Southeast Asia. Through this initiative, Bangladesh aims to tap into the economic potential of the region while promoting regional stability and cooperation. This concerted effort underscores Bangladesh’s commitment to diversifying its diplomatic and economic engagements, positioning itself as a key player in the dynamic landscape of East and Southeast Asia.

However, the signed documents on April 26 include an agreement regarding visa exemption for holders of official passports, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on energy cooperation, another MoU focused on cooperation and mutual assistance in customs matters, a separate MoU on collaboration in the tourism sector, and a Letter of Intent (LOI) signaling the initiation of negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) by 2024. Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud of Bangladesh signed the MoUs on energy and tourism cooperation, while Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan signed the agreement on visa exemption. State Minister for Commerce Ahasanul Islam Titu signed the LOI, and National Board of Revenue (NBR) Chairman Abu Hena Md Rahmatul Muneem signed the MoU on customs cooperation.

During a joint press conference, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced the agreement to commence FTA negotiations by 2024, alongside the signing of the LOI. She emphasized the purpose of the visa exemption agreement to facilitate smooth interaction between officials of Thailand and Bangladesh. She highlighted the MoU on energy cooperation as a means to explore the potential in this sector. Prime Minister Hasina explained that the MoUs on customs cooperation were aimed at benefiting from Thailand’s expertise and experiences, while the tourism cooperation MoU aimed to exchange best practices in the tourism sector. Thai Prime Minister, during the same press conference, reiterated the commitment of Thailand and Bangladesh to collaborate towards achieving an FTA. He expressed confidence that the LOI would expedite the negotiation process. He emphasized the significance of the visa exemption agreement in promoting travel between officials of both countries, the potential of energy cooperation, the importance of effective customs cooperation for border control and anti-smuggling efforts, and the value of knowledge exchange in the tourism sector.

The bilateral agreements between Bangladesh and Thailand, signed on April 26, 2024, signify a deepening of diplomatic ties and hold several implications. Firstly, they underscore the commitment of both nations to strengthen relations across various sectors, including energy, tourism, and customs cooperation. These agreements pave the way for enhanced collaboration and mutual assistance, contributing to regional stability and prosperity. Secondly, the initiation of negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) reflects a shared ambition to expand economic ties and foster trade growth. By facilitating smoother interaction through visa exemptions for officials, the agreements aim to promote closer engagement and facilitate cross-border cooperation. The emphasis on energy cooperation signifies a strategic alignment in addressing common challenges and exploring new avenues for sustainable development. The focus on customs cooperation highlights the importance of effective border control and anti-smuggling measures, ensuring the integrity of trade relations. Lastly, the commitment to exchanging best practices in the tourism sector underscores the potential for cultural exchange and economic development through enhanced tourism opportunities.

Therefore, the recent bilateral agreements between Bangladesh and Thailand represent a significant advancement in their relationship, signaling a shared commitment to deepen collaboration across various sectors. These agreements pave the way for enhanced economic ties, regional stability, and cultural exchange, laying a solid foundation for mutual benefit and prosperity in the future.

Syed Raiyan Amir

Syed Raiyan Amir is a Senior Research Associate at The KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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