Time: December 09, 2018
SM Anisul Haque
Bangladesh has maintained excellent relations with Saudi Arabia since long with growing engagements in trade and investment in recent years. Over these years both the countries have experienced and learnt to identify potential areas of economic cooperation for mutual benefit.
As the engagements are growing, Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minster of Bangladesh undertook her sixth official visit to Saudi Arabia on 16-19 October 2018 in an effort to further strengthening the relations between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia. This visit saw intensive engagements of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh in Saudi Arabia over three days with an audience with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and meeting with Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense.
During the visit, the prime minister also attended a business seminar, inaugurated the newly built Chancery Complex of Bangladesh Embassy in Riyadh and layed the foundation of chancery building of the Consulate General of Bangladesh in Jeddah.
During the meeting with the King the entire gamut of bilateral relations as well as regional and international issues of mutual interest were discussed. Both the leaders commended the unprecedented gain in momentum of bilateral relations of two countries in recent years and emphasized on further expansion of the relations through cooperation and engagements at different levels.
Saudi Vision 2030 promoted by the Saudi Government under the guidance of King Salman and the transformational development of the Kingdom offer Bangladesh the opportunity to explore new areas of cooperation in areas of manpower, trade, investment, education and agriculture.
Bangladesh’s ‘Vision 2021’ to become a middle-income country and ‘Vision 2041’ to attain the status of a high mid-income country warrant Bangladesh to engage in a fast growing trade and economic cooperation with major regional partners like Saudi Arabia.
Accordingly, during the meeting of two leaders it was reiterated that the cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh would continue and both the countries would be development partners. In order to fulfill this objective, exchange of economic and investment-related delegations between the two countries and utilizing the opportunities of economic, cultural and defense cooperation would play a pivotal role.
In terms of cooperation for common goal, Bangladesh Prime Minister appreciated the great visionary role played by the King for the development of the Muslim Ummah. There is a special place of Saudi Arabia in the heart of Bangladeshi Muslims as the two holy mosques exist in Makkah and Madina and Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Thus a great opportunity exists between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia to work together in depicting the true face of Islam, especially to disseminate real message of this religion so that none could benefit by misrepresenting Islam in the respective countries. Both the countries have cooperated in such endeavour by establishing 560 uniquely-designed mosques cum Islamic Cultural Center in Bangladesh with facilities like Imam training center, Haj training camp and pilgrim centers. It is expected that this initiative will support the efforts for establishing a peaceful, progressive and harmonious Bangladesh.
During the meeting between the Crown Prince and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, the recent development activities of Bangladesh, particularly in areas of food security, housing, education, and poverty reduction were highlighted. The crown Prince appreciated Bangladesh’s proactive quest for promience in every sector as well as the unprecedented gain in momentum of bilateral relations of the two countries and emphasized the need for further expansion of relations through cooperation in areas like trade and investments.
In terms of encouraging more Saudi investors to invest in Bangladesh, Bangladesh Prime Minister reiterated the offer to allocate a huge chunk of land to establish an exclusive economic zone for Saudi investors. The Crown Prince expressed interest in widening its relation with Bangladesh and taking advantage of the announcement of offer for Saudi Arbia and mentioned that a high-level delegation from Public Investment Fund (PIF) of Saudid Arabia along with businessmen and experts will be sent to Bangladesh within two months to explore the trade and investment potentials. He also stressed on the need for increasing such interactions of business delegations of the two countries on regular basis to further accelerate trade and investments between the two countries.
In terms of political cooperation, the Crown Price urged all Muslim countries to work together for combating the menace of terrorism and mentioned that both the countries could work together on this issue through exchange of information and experience. Bangladesh Prime Minister said that the activities of some of the derailed groups have maligned the image of the entire Muslim world and affirmed Bangladesh’s policy of zero tolerance against terrorism and violent extremism. In this regard it is worth noting that the people of different faiths and religions are living with peace and harmony in Bangladesh. It is apparent that various initiatives of the Government in countering militancy and religious sectarianism have produced a positive outcome in Bangladesh, attracting high praise from all over the world.
The Prime Minister also reiterated Bangladesh’s commitment to send four officials to work at the General Secretariat of Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) in Riyadh. The Crown Prince repeated Bangladesh’s importance for Saudi Arabia and expressed happiness in Bangladesh’s decision to join the Saudi-led Center to fight against terrorism and violent extremism.
Both the leaders also pledged to work towards global peace, stability and development and in particular welfare of the Muslim Ummah and emphasized the need for resolving problems through negotiations instead of conflicts.
In the context of Palestine, Bangladesh Prime Minister reiterated its support and commitment for an independent Palestine State with Jerusalem as the capital. The Crown Prince appreciated Bangladesh highly for its principled position and actions in respect of Palestine. Besides, both the leaders stressed on s cooperation between Bangaldesh and Saudi Arabia. There are scopes to cooperate in the field of military construction, border surveillance, mine clearing and training, and both the countries agreed in furthering the joint engagements.
Another highlight of Bangldesh Prime Minister’s visit to the Kingdom was her attendance at a business session in Riyadh organized by the Council of Saudi Chambers and Bangladesh Embassy in Riyadh. The business session was attended by the leaders of the Council of Saudi Chambers and Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other Business leaders. The effective interactions in the business meeting is expected to increase further engagements between the business leaders of two countries in the days ahead and create more opportunities for Saudi investors to explore investment opportunities in Bangladesh. The meeting emphasized the need to exchange trade delegations between business chambers of Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh to identify the priorities and opportunities of trade and investment between the two countries, which should assist in achieving the untapped potentials of trade and investment between the two countries.
The Prime Minister of Bangladesh urged Saudi entrepreneurs and businessmen to invest in 100 Special Economic Zones earmarked for priority sectors like energy, power, infrastructure and communication networks, high tech parks, IT, textiles and agro-based industries. Appraising the vision of Bangladesh to achieve the status of middle income country by 2021 and a high middle income country by 2041, Bangladesh Prime Minister urged Saudi Investors and entrepreneurs to take advantage of the positive investment and business climate prevailing in Bangladesh. Bangladesh’s solid macroeconomic stability in recent years with a solvent credit rating and a low inflation and decreasing lending rate should be benefecial for Saudi entrepreneurs if they opt for one or two Economic Zones earmarked exclusively for the Saudi investors. Keeping that in mind a number of business and investment related MOUs were signed between Bangladesh and Saudi companies during the Business Meeting, which is expected to play key role in augmenting further economic ties between the two countries.
Bangladeshi expatriate workers and diaspora in Saudi Arabi is contributing to the construction and economic growth of both the economies of Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia. During inaugurating own chancery premises of the Embassy and Consulate General of Bangladesh in Riyadh and Jeddah, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh recognized outstanding contributions of diaspora to the developments of Bangladesh. She also praised the diaspora for putting their efforts and hard work for the economic benefit of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Given that the diaspora have regarded Saudi Arabia as their temporary home, the Prime Minister advised the expatriate community to abide by the rules and regulations of their host country.
The latest visit of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to Saudi Arabia seems to have given a solid push in terms of taking the bilateral relations to a new height and laying the foundation for establishing wider partnership between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia in the coming days.
Elaborate discussion by Bangladesh Prime Minister with His Majesty the King and Crown Prince on these issues should increase the level of confidence between the two countries enormously. It is expected that mutual engagements in different sectors, particularly in the area of trade, investment and defense would see an immediate improvement in the short term. Also, the signing of five business MOUs in different sectors is expected to increse Saudi investment in Bangladesh in those areas as well as in other sectors in the near future.
From Bangadesh’s perspective, an enhanced cooperation with Saudi Arabia will not only strengthen bilateral relations but also bring fresh dynamism and perspective in Bangladesh’s relations with other countries in the Muslim world. Positive engagements in the region with enhanced economic and trade ties with Gulf Arab countries including Saudi Arabia should contribute in Bangladesh’s quest for rapid economic transormation.
( The writer is a Political Minister at Bangladesh Embassy in Riyadh)