Special Supplement

Strengthening Bangladesh, Sri Lanka ties

Published : 18 Mar 2021 08:05 PM

The visit of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is being seen as a way of expanding the bilateral relations further by opening up new avenues of cooperation.

This is his first visit to Bangladesh after being sworn in as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka for the fourth time on August 9, 2020. But the visit marks the birth centenary celebration of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the golden jubilee of independence of Bangladesh.

When he took the power, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina congratulated him and said that Bangladesh and Sri Lanka enjoy excellent bilateral relations based on mutual interests, which is evident from the collaboration in wide-ranging areas, such as enhancing connectivity, combating terrorism and violent extremism, and addressing climate change.

“This is also manifest in the presence of a large Sri Lankan diaspora in Bangladesh. I fondly recall our interactions on numerous occasions, in particular during your visit to Bangladesh, as also in various international and regional fora for advancing our common causes,” she had said.

“During your term in office, my government and I look forward to building on the wonderful foundation of friendship that so happily exists between our two countries. We are also committed to working together to ensure a peaceful, harmonious, and prosperous South Asia,” the premier also added.

Diplomatic relations between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh were formally established in 1972, soon after the independence in 1971. Bangladesh High Commission in Colombo was established on 21 April 1976. Sri Lankan High Commission in Dhaka was set up in June 1979. An Honorary Consulate of Sri Lanka also operates in Chittagong.

This historical bond of friendship has become stronger through deepening engagements at the bilateral, regional and international levels.

The two countries are cooperating and supporting each other at various regional and international organizations such as United Nations, Commonwealth, SAARC, BIMSTEC, Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and Asia Cooperation Dialogue.

Exchange of high-level visits and contact between leadership of the two countries on the sidelines of international meetings has consolidated the relations.

Both countries have also signed number of deals for cooperation among different sectors. The two countries also established institutional frameworks to advance bilateral relations through Foreign Office Consultations. The Joint Economic Commission also discusses many initiatives for boosting trade and economic cooperation which were mooted and agreed upon.

The trade and investment relation between the two countries is significant. The presence of a sizable number of Sri Lankan expatriates and students in Bangladesh builds a bridge between the two countries, according to the foreign ministry.

Referring to the excellent bilateral relations existing between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and the multitude of commonalities, Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said the “relations become stronger in many areas during our government’s tenure.”

“Through the visit, the bilateral cooperation will be expanded further and new avenues of cooperation will also be opened up,” he said.

Discussions on issues related to enhancing bilateral trade, concluding bilateral FTA, enhancing shipping connectivity, signing of coastal shipping agreement, investment promotion, and cooperation in pharmaceutical sectors are underway.

Bangladesh also wants to increase in the areas of agriculture, agro-based products, regional tourism, investment promotion, ICT, high-tech industry and education. 

As the 50-year anniversary of bilateral relations approaches, during a time characterised by major global supply chain shifts brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an opportunity for Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to take stock of existing relations and assess ways to reinforce ties, according to the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies. It explains in a case study why should Sri Lanka strengthen economic ties with Bangladesh?

The first reason is rapid growth – as the fifth fastest growing economy in the world with GDP growth of 8.2 percent in 2019 and increasing purchasing power, Bangladesh offers great market potential for Sri Lanka.

Second is an exception to the rule: Bangladesh is expected to maintain positive growth rates in 2020, while most economies are expected to contract. As the impact of Covid-19 has been contained in Sri Lanka, both countries are in a positive to assist each other with economic recovery through cooperation.

The third reason is linkages in garment sector: Sectoral ties can be deepened given its significance to Sri Lanka’s and Bangladesh’s economy. Bangladesh is the third largest exporter of garments in the world, while Sri Lanka is known for its expertise in textiles, particularly in value-addition processes.

And the fourth reason is increased connectivity: Sri Lanka’s high port rankings and strong maritime links to Bangladesh and western markets can be leveraged to boost economic activity, according to the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute.

Nearly 50 years of traditionally friendly relationship and Sri Lanka’s new focus on regional cooperation can be the strengths in enhancing the ties.