Bangladesh and Sri Lanka celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations

Saturday, 19 March 2022 00:53 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Jerome Vincent

Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are celebrating the golden jubilee of bilateral ties this year recognising each other’s contribution to their socio-economic development.

The Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKI) in collaboration with the High Commission of Bangladesh in Sri Lanka and the High Commission of Sri Lanka in Bangladesh recently hosted a commemoration event to celebrate the Fiftieth Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between the People’s Republic of Bangladesh and the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

It highlighted the unique contribution made by Sri Lanka to the Bangladesh garment industry to achieve a supreme position in the international market.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in her goodwill message noted that the last fifty years have provided a strong foundation for lasting bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in his goodwill message highlighted that the relationship between the two nations has matured to be a mutually rewarding partnership and stated that this occasion provides an opportunity to reflect on innovative means to enhance bilateral cooperation between the two South Asian nations.

LKI Executive Director Dr. Dayantha Laksiri Mendis, in his welcome address, reflected on the long-standing bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and explored ways in which this relationship could be further strengthened in order to ensure increased cooperation and engagement. 

The experts from Sri Lanka in the field of garments initially engaged in setting up garment factories in Bangladesh. They imparted their knowledge in the holistic business of garments, displayed their skills in manufacturing and logistics; shared their valued experience in product planning and sourcing international markets and trained the Bangladesh work force to be highly skilled and as a result the workforce has achieved the highest level of productivity in the field of garment manufacturing.  Bangladesh has immensely benefited by the contribution made by the Sri Lankan experts to gain international reputation. Today, Bangladesh garments exports amounts to $ 25.0 billion and represent 55.4% of their export value. Further, Bangladesh remains in a very strong position with regard to foreign exchange reserves despite the COVID 19 global pandemic.

After five decades of independence obtained in 1972, Bangladesh can be identified as the rising star of Asia with a population of 166.3 million in 2021. Since then, Bangladesh has shown a greater economic resilience and self determination to graduate from a less developed country in 1975 (LDC) to reach the status of a developing country by 2026. This decision had been taken by the UN and in admission to developing country status the benchmarks such as per capita income, Human Asset Index (HAI) and Economic and Environmental Vulnerability Index (EVI) had been taken into account.

Sri Lanka and Bangladesh diplomatic ties can be further strengthened into bilateral trade enhancement, free trade agreements, establishment of a multilateral shipping network in the Bay of Bengal and bilateral development of the tourism industry and investment in the manufacturing sector.

To mark this unique event, a press conference was held at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute. Sri Lanka Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in his virtual message highlighted that, “Both countries enjoy a matured diplomatic relationship since 1972. Bangladesh remains as a trusted friend assisting each other in achievement of goals. There are 110 Sri Lankan companies operating in Bangladesh at present. He said that the ties between two countries will grow in the future”.

Regional Cooperation State Minister Tharaka Balasuriya mentioned that, “Relationship of comfort has been the hallmark success that existed between two countries and Bangladesh has supported Sri Lanka at all times. Bangladesh economic progress and rising as a regional power is witnessed especially during the last two decades. Both countries are members of SAARC and BIMSTEC upholding regional cooperation’’.

He further added that, “Shipping collaboration is another major potential area that exists between two countries and discussions will be held to divert more shipping connectivity towards the port of Colombo. Diversification of trade in the field of IT, tourism and pharmaceuticals will enhance bilateral trade. There are two Bangladesh conglomerates that have shown interest in investing in the field of pharmaceuticals. I wish that the next 50 years of economic and diplomatic ties between the two countries will further flourish and thanked the Bangladesh Government for all support rendered”.

High Commissioner of Bangladesh to Sri Lanka Tariq Ariful Islam during the discussion told that, “Bangladesh as a country who appreciate Sri Lanka for recognising as a sovereign state in 1972. The diplomatic relationships during the past five decades have grown to unprecedented levels and it has been planned to celebrate this unique year with celebrations. Both countries share similar interests, cultural values, mutual respect and ethos. At present the bilateral trade between two countries amounts to $ 300.0 million and there is potential to expand further. The comparative advantages both countries enjoy and possess in trade can be harnessed for further development.

Bangladesh wishes to identify three baskets of products for bilateral trade and commerce development. They are Tea, Garments and IT. Further the port of Colombo and Chittagong can be developed as regional shipping hubs. This will enhance transhipment facilities and greater opportunities for investment. Trade and shipping can be complimented by each segment to encourage bilateral trade.

Exchange of shipping delegations between Sri Lanka and Bangladesh can usher in passenger and cruise shipping operations which will be a greater impetus to the tourist industry. Pharmaceutical is also another potential industry where products can be manufactured at a competitive price targeting the entire globe.

Bangladesh has assisted Sri Lanka with currency swap facilities and there is more room for better wealth management and international banking. Bangladesh welcomes investments from Sri Lanka and appreciates the Sri Lanka’s professionals who are rendering a yeoman service to uplift the Bangladesh Garments, Banking and other manufacturing industries. He added that fifty years of reflection between two countries will maximise the potential of the two countries in the future. 

Pix by Upul Abayasekara