In March 2014, Malé decided to close its high commission office in Dhaka due to the reduction in the annual budget. At that time, Dhaka offered to pay the rent for the Maldivian Embassy office and take care of other local official expenses in Dhaka. Although the Maldives politely rejected this offer, it does imply the closeness and depth of relations between these two South Asian countries.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh

Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka.

Recently, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, and his entourage ended their six-day inaugural visit to the Maldives by accepting the invitation of the President of the Maldives, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. It is the need of the hour to analyze the meaning of this visit and to deepen the message it conveys.

The diplomatic relations journey between Bangladesh and the Maldives began on September 22, 1978. Since then, the two countries have enjoyed a comfortable bilateral relationship with cooperation in trade, investment, security and military assistance. In order to encourage bilateral trade, the government of Maldives removed most tariffs on Bangladeshi products in 2011. This resulted in an increase in Bangladeshi exports, especially pharmaceuticals to the Maldives, among other commodities.

Many Bangladeshi migrants, around 70,000 to 80,000, work in the Maldives as expatriates, which directly contributes to Bangladesh’s foreign exchange reserves, which now exceed US $ 46 billion.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bangladesh Navy sent more than 100 tons of food and pharmaceuticals to the Maldives, and the Bangladesh Air Force actively participated in the COVID-19 vaccination program in 2021.

The importance of the recent visit

The Bangladeshi Prime Minister’s visit to the Maldives is important, not only for Bangladesh and the Maldives but also for other South Asian countries like neighboring Sri Lanka, for a number of reasons that are worth discussing in detail. First, this visit will strengthen existing bilateral relations on trade, connectivity, investment, agriculture, information and communication technologies, human resource development, culture and community well-being, because the leaders of the two friendly States maintain a dialogue which attaches the utmost importance to these questions.

This type of dialogue also took place during the visit of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to Bangladesh in March 2021. Second, the signing of a memorandum of understanding for the recruitment of qualified health professionals will open a window of career for the practitioners concerned. On the one hand, it will generate foreign exchange for Bangladesh by creating jobs for Bangladeshi healthcare professionals and on the other hand, it will also improve the entire health sector in Maldives. And this is how it will create a win-win situation for both countries. Bangladesh could also sign such an agreement with Sri Lanka soon.

Third, the Double Tax Elimination Agreement will ensure that honest taxpayers do not have to pay tax in both countries for the same income.

This will effectively promote foreign direct investment in the two countries by motivating foreign investors. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka can also follow the same agreement to avoid double taxation. Fourth, Bangladesh donated 13 military vehicles as a token of friendship to the Maldives, which will enhance security cooperation and strengthen brotherly ties between the security forces of those countries. Fifth, Bangladesh signed an agreement to lend the Maldives US $ 200 million during the visit.

This is the second time that Bangladesh has lent to a country, after Sri Lanka (to which it has provided $ 250 million), proving once again the economic boom and financial power of Bangladesh in this region. In addition, it also shows how to hold hands of close friends during a critical time brought on by the COVID pandemic.

Sixth, the decision to cooperate in youth and sports development will go a long way in improving this sector by encouraging young people to actively participate in sports and by sponsoring local sports related organizations.

Seventh, from now on, citizens of Maldives will benefit from visa-free entry to Bangladesh, which will not only increase interpersonal connectivity, but also increase trade volume and promote Bangladesh tourism sector.

Port of Chittagong in Bangladesh

Eighth, the agreement on the transfer of “sentenced prisoners” will also help these countries bring the perpetrators to their front and to justice. Finally, the Bangladeshi Prime Minister said that the national airline Biman Bangladesh Airlines is ready to launch air connectivity with the Maldives, which will increase bilateral trade and investment and subsequently have a positive long-term impact on the means. subsistence of the inhabitants of these two countries.

What else could have been done?

This century is remarkable for minimizing geographic distances by removing visible and invisible trade barriers. As “maritime neighbors”, Bangladesh and the Maldives may have discussed a free trade agreement (FTA) to remove tariff and non-tariff barriers to bilateral trade that artificially impede the free flow of goods and services. services.

In addition, they could have designed a roadmap to improve “maritime connectivity” by creating opportunities for the Maldives to use the various seaports in Bangladesh. The two countries may have strengthened their cooperation to obtain the optimum return from the “blue economy” by using marine resources, eg oil, gas, sand, fish, seafood, minerals, sand. and gravel, renewables, etc. As climate-vulnerable countries, they could have planned to work together to address the climate crisis. The visit of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to the island country reflects the importance he attaches to this bilateral relationship as long-time friends.

It is an effort on the Bangladesh side to deepen ties with other South Asian countries that is necessary for the country’s aspiration to become a soft “middle power”. But there are many critical issues, equally important to both countries, that could have been addressed to make the visit even more successful.

As the two countries have similar religious values, cultural practices and development aspirations, they should have declared a clearly defined plan on how they will cooperate with each other in the coming days to bring the ties to a new one. level in the bilateral equation.

Biman Bangladesh Airlines

(Ozair Islam is a human rights activist and NGO worker. He can be reached at [email protected])

– Eurasia Review