Sri Lanka-Bangladesh ties | Daily News

Sri Lanka-Bangladesh ties

President Maithripala Sirisena’s current State visit to Bangladesh is significant in several ways. It will mark a new zenith in bilateral relations between the two nations, both of which are members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

Sri Lanka has had fruitful relations with Bangladesh since its creation in 1971. Successive Governments in both countries have continued and enhanced this relationship and the President’s current visit is a testimony to the strength of that friendship. In fact, President Sirisena began his tour with a visit to the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum in Dhanmondi where he paid a glowing tribute to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (founder and first President), saying Sri Lanka is a proud partner of the Bangladesh he envisioned. “I am pleased to see that Bangabandhu’s vision for this nation is being realised by his daughter Sheikh Hasina,” the President wrote in the visitor’s book.

Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are a clear example of South-South cooperation which is essential for the developing world. As South Asian countries reach Middle Income status, foreign aid per se will dwindle. This is a blessing in disguise for developing countries who should give preference to trade and cooperation among themselves instead of looking to the traditionally rich countries for conventional OECD assistance.

In this context, the 14 instruments signed between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka during the President’s visit can be described as a fillip to South-South and intra-SAARC cooperation. The agreements relate to cooperation in coastal shipping; agriculture; education; investment; information and communication technology; and cooperation between the two Central Banks, Foreign Service institutes, think-tanks – Bangladesh Institute of International Strategic Studies and Sri Lanka’s Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies. There will be agreements relating to radio, TV and films as well. Agreements for cooperation between two standards testing institutions, news agencies, Chittagong BGMEA Fashion Institute and Sri Lanka Textile and Apparel Institute, are also envisaged.

Some of the agreements will see fruition very soon - Bangladesh shippers have already welcomed the decision by their Government and Sri Lanka to launch a joint venture container feeder service between the two countries. The service by state-owned Bangladesh Shipping Corporation (BSC) and Sri Lanka’s national ocean carrier Ceylon Shipping Corp. (CSC) will increase competition and routing options.

Sri Lanka already has Free Trade Agreements with several SAARC countries, but not Bangladesh. This anomaly will be rectified soon. Confirming the matter, Bangladesh Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque said they have also agreed to sign Free Trade Agreement (FTA) within this year to boost trade cooperation.

Bangladesh exports to Sri Lanka sharply increased in the just concluded fiscal year as the figure totalled US$ 42.24 million registering a 38.76% growth over the previous year. In 2015-16, the exports amounted was US$ 30.44 million. Pharmaceutical products constituted the largest part of the exports with $13.87 million. As of 2015-16, bilateral trade between the two countries stood at US$ 75.62 million and the trade is in favour of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka exported products worth US$ 45 million to Bangladesh during the same period.

There is a huge potential for expanding trade once the FTA comes into operation. In fact, the paucity of intra-SAARC trade reflects a lack of will on the part of SAARC authorities to developing trade and investment within the region. The concept of a South Asian Free Trade Arrangement (SAFTA) has been there for some time, without any real progress being made. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka should take the lead in reinvigorating intra-region trade, even though the two countries compete for trade with the outside world in categories such as garments.

People-to-people contact is also another factor that contributes to a positive relationship. SriLankan Airlines already flies to Dhaka, but Biman Bangladesh should also begin flights to Colombo. The eventual easing of visa regulations on both sides will also facilitate travel between the two countries. Sri Lanka could also attract more Buddhist pilgrims from Bangladesh, which has around 600,000 Buddhists.

Sri Lankans have also watched with avid interest and joy the relentless rise of Bangladesh in world cricket. Coincidentally, one of the finest Sri Lankan cricketers is behind the roaring success of the Bangladeshi Tigers – Chandika Hathurusinghe has moulded the Tigers from a team that was languishing in the cricketing wilderness to perform fiercely and take the Number 7 slot in ICC ODI rankings, ahead of Sri Lanka (Number 8). Cricket is a passion that unites Sri Lankans and Bangladeshis and both countries should strive to play more matches with each other.

Sport is just one more way in which the two countries have come together. Bengali and Sinhala are linguistically similar and the people share a culture inspired by Asian values. The President's visit is a golden opportunity to reaffirm these timeless bonds.


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