- Preferential trade agreement will be signed if FTA signing takes long
- Next meeting of Joint Working Group on Trade to be held soon
- Chattogram-Colombo feeder service to be operated
- Flight operations by Bangladesh carriers to Colombo to be initiated
- Mutual cooperation in pharmaceuticals sector to be expanded
Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have agreed to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) to utilise the huge unused trade potential between the two countries.
If signing the FTA takes a long time, the two nations will sign a preferential trade agreement (PTA). The PTA will begin with a short list of products that could open up opportunities for expanded trade, investment, and tourism in the future.
Both sides agreed to hold the next meeting of the Joint Working Group on Trade soon.
Emphasising the need for shipping connectivity to expand bilateral trade, they agreed to operate the Chattogram-Colombo feeder service and make an agreement on coastal shipping. There were instructions to hold the next meeting of the Joint Working Group on Shipping and Shipping Secretary-level talks soon to iron out the pending issues in this regard.
Moreover, recognising the importance of enhanced air connectivity to promote people-to-people contact, tourism and trade, both sides agreed to initiate flight operations by Bangladesh carriers to Colombo soon to meet the growing air traffic demand between the two countries.
To reap the benefits of wider economic partnership, the two countries directed the respective authorities concerned for early conclusion of the agreement on bilateral customs cooperation.
Both sides also decided to expand mutual cooperation in the pharmaceuticals sector.
The two countries reached the consensus at the official bilateral talks held at the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) on Saturday. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina led the Bangladesh side while her Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa led his country in the talks.
Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen later disclosed information on the meeting discussion at a press conference at the Foreign Service Academy. Earlier, Prime Minister's Press Secretary Ihsanul Karim briefed reporters after the meeting of the two leaders.
Mentioning that the bilateral trade volume is far less than its potential, Hasina said the joint feasibility study for an FTA had already been done.
"Now, we should go for an early conclusion of FTA," she said, emphasising facilitating greater participation of the private sector.
According to 2019 data of the Export Promotion Bureau, the annual trade volume between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka is about $13 crore. Of this, Sri Lanka exports goods worth $9.86 crore while Bangladesh's exports amount to about $3.7 crore.
Hasina said Bangladesh has many products that have high prospects in the Sri Lankan market.
Referring to Sri Lankan investment in the power sector of Bangladesh, she said, "We encourage Sri Lankan investors to invest more in our special economic zones, industrial parks, and high-tech parks."
Emphasising increased trade and its diversification, the Sri Lankan prime minister sought more attention to tariff preference, saying his country would invest more in the private sector.
He requested Bangladesh to make the repatriation of profits easier and lauded Bangladesh's concept of the blue economy, saying Sri Lanka is ready to share its experiences to this end.
Momen said the two leaders had agreed to set up a Joint Commission for Comprehensive Cooperation, led by the two foreign ministers, to further expand bilateral assistance and activate the existing institutional structures.
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam said, "Coastal shipping is among our priorities and we are working on it."
Hasina said Bangladesh would encourage the Sri Lankan business community to increasingly utilise the value additive opportunities in Bangladesh's agriculture sector.
She said Bangladesh would be happy to share with Sri Lanka its experiences in agriculture, particularly in rice farming and freshwater fisheries.
"We would like to obtain technical know-hows from Sri Lanka in coastal, aquaculture, marine culture, and deep sea fishing," she added.
In the education sector, the Bangladeshi prime minister said both countries should have more institutionalised cooperation in capacity building, vocational training, and skill development.
Talking about the health sector, she put emphasis on core training of Bangladeshi nurses and other health professionals in Sri Lanka.
"Sri Lanka may benefit immensely by importing our world-class pharmaceutical products and medical devices in greater quantities," she said, noting it would require the simplification of Sri Lankan registration procedures.
Hasina opined that Sri Lanka could also utilise Bangladesh's high expertise in the field of ICT.
Bangladesh would be happy to share with Sri Lanka its experiences in emergency response, disaster management, climate adaptation, and mitigation, she added.
Mentioning that Bangladesh values its relationship with Sri Lanka, she said the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka would be held next year.
Rajapaksa described the relations between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as a close bond of friendship. He praised Bangladesh's digital transformation and its performance, saying they would be happy to share experiences in the fields of agriculture, health, and education for mutual benefit.
The Sri Lankan prime minister said his country is keen to learn from Bangladesh about disaster management. He also praised Bangladesh and Hasina for handling the Covid-19 situation successfully.
Six Memoranda of Understanding signed
After the meeting of the two top leaders, Dhaka and Colombo signed six Memoranda of Understanding to enhance cooperation between the two countries in different areas.
State Minister for Youth and Sports Zahid Ahsan Russel and Sri Lankan State Minister for Rural Housing and Construction Indika Anuruddha signed the instrument on cooperation for strengthening youth development on behalf of their respective countries.
At the signing ceremony, five other Memoranda of Understanding were inked and renewed. They are between Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council and Sri Lanka Council for Agricultural Research Policy on the exchange of documentation on vocational qualification between Bangladesh's Directorate of Technical Education and Sri Lanka's Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission, on the cooperation of training of Bangladeshi nurses and healthcare workers in Sri Lanka between the two governments, between Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies and Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies for cooperation and cultural exchange programme between the two governments from 2021 to 2025.
Meeting with President
Rajapaksa stressed on exchanging experiences between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in socio-economic development of the two countries as he paid a courtesy call on President M Abdul Hamid at Bangabhaban in the afternoon.
Lauding the ongoing socio-economic progress of Bangladesh, he said Bangladesh is moving forward on the path of rapid development.
During the meeting at Credential Hall with the Bangladesh's head of the state, the prime minister of Sri Lanka said he looked forward to properly utilise the development experiences in socio-economic progress of the countries in the days to come, reports BSS.
President Hamid called upon Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to identify potential investment sectors, including the areas of information technology, agriculture, health, education, tourism, and services.
He also urged the investors of the two countries to come forward to exchange experiences of the development trend in the respective countries in the days to come.
The Sri Lankan prime minister arrived in Dhaka on Friday morning on a two-day official visit to attend the celebrations of the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the golden jubilee of the country's independence. He left Dhaka on Saturday evening.
More state guests to arrive
To attend the celebrations, a few more state guests are due to arrive in Dhaka.
President of Nepal Bidhya Devi Bhandari will be here on 22 March, and Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering on 24 March. Indian Premier Narendra Modi will visit Bangladesh on 26 March.
All these leaders will also hold bilateral meetings with Hasina.