In an Interview with Envoy Excellency H.E. Syed Muazzem Ali, High Commissioner of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh to India

“Our vision is to further integrate our two economies so that Bangladesh can take full advantage of the growing economy of India”

According to Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi, India and Bangladesh are now going through “Golden Era”, how do you see this?

Indeed there has been a great momentum in the Bangladesh-India relations since the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina came to power in 2009. This has further been consolidated since Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came to power again for the consecutive term in 2014. Since then, both the Prime Ministers have been showing tremendous commitment in promoting the bilateral relations for the betterment of people of two countries and as a result, currently, our relations stand at its best. They have demonstrated how long-standing complex bilateral issues like Land Boundary Agreement and Maritime Boundaries could be resolved unanimously through consultation, compassion, and consensus-building.

Security has been one of the issues which had bedevilled our bilateral relations in the past especially during the period from 2001 to 2006. However, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, since assumption of power in 2009, has firmly controlled the security situation and has made it clear that no Bangladesh territory would be used for terrorist purpose. She has so far shown ‘Zero tolerance’ to acts of terrorism and expects similar reciprocal actions from all our neighbours. Our cooperation, however, is not only limited to security, it is expanding in the multifarious areas like energy, connectivity, trade & Commerce, culture, people to people contact etc. and we see great potentials in the areas of connectivity, trade and commerce, energy and people-to-people contact for the progress and development of our two countries as well as for the region.

Recently the two neighboring nations inaugurated three mega projects in partnership, according to you how this step is going to change the course of history and upcoming times for both the countries?

Yes, in September this year the two Prime Ministers jointly inaugurated multiple projects in Bangladesh, through video conferencing. These are — Supply of 500 MW additional power supply from India to Bangladesh through Baharampur – Bheramara interconnection, construction work of the Bangladesh part of Akhaura-Agartala railway link, and rehabilitation of Kulaura-Shahbazpur section of Bangladesh Railways. We believe these energy and connectivity projects would give a fresh momentum to the India-Bangladesh relations. Our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has a vision of restoring connectivity to the way it was prior to India-Pakistan war of 1965. To that end, we are happy that all these projects have been steadily progressing towards completion, which will ultimately benefit the people of both the countries.

I may emphasis  that Akhaura-Agartala rail connectivity when completed next year, would be a game changer as the exports of the North-Eastern states would be able to use our Chittagong port.

India and Bangladesh share strong bond over culture, language, literature and much more, how do you see this bond since last 4 decades and how we can nurture it more in significant way?

It is indeed most appropriate that our multifaceted relations are rooted in our shared history, geographical proximity and commonality in our culture and heritage. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation, soon after our independence, had laid down the foundation of the close and cooperative ties with India, and had taken every step to resolve all outstanding problems between us.  After his tragic assassination on 15th August 1975, our relations had suffered a major setback.  However, after his able daughter Sheikh Hasina was elected as Prime Minister in 1996, she has been relentlessly working for all round cooperation between our two countries based on mutual trust & confidence.  During her first term of office, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had signed two historic accords on Ganges water sharing as well as Chittagong Hill tracts. These accords had huge positive impacts on our bilateral ties.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina since assumption of power for the second time in 2009, has consistently tried to restore mutual trust and cooperation and she has brought a change in our mindset regarding our bilateral ties. Now our understanding is that a strong and vibrant India will offer Bangladesh with lots of economic opportunities and Bangladesh should take full advantage of the high growth of the Indian economy to further her own economic development. On the other hand, a strong and stable Bangladesh provides the best security guarantee for India. Therefore, our priority now is to devise ways to synergies the priorities of our two countries and how best we could complement each other to make the relations stronger, stable and irreversible. To that effect, we are happy that currently we are enjoying the best of our relations.

The eleven Agreements and twenty-four MoUs signed during the visit of our Hon’ble Prime Minister in 2017 virtually encompass every important sector in our bilateral cooperation namely security, trade, connectivity, energy, civil nuclear agreement, defence and introduction of new bus and train services etc. In addition to the two earlier Line of Credits (LOCs), India also extended a fresh LOC to Bangladesh during the visit to the tune of $ 5 billion which also includes $ 500 million for defence purchase. Our Private sectors also made their valuable inputs when they signed MoUs for the investment to the tune of $13 billion primarily in the energy sector. Cooperation in the areas of connectivity, energy and trade has increased phenomenally in recent years.

Culture has been an enduring link between Bangladesh and India. Recently, our Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina undertook a two-day official visit to West Bengal, from May 25 to 26, 2018. Basically, our Prime Minister visited this time to attend the convocations of two renowned universities in West Bengal, the Viswa-Bharati in Shantiniketan and Kazi Nazrul University in Asansol and to inaugurate the “Bangladesh Bhavan” at Visva-Bharati. This visit has further cemented the enduring cultural links between our two countries.

 

Cultural teams from both the countries do participate in various cultural programmes, book fairs, film festivals in each other’s capital. A good number of Bangladeshi students are also studying in India.

People-to-people contact between Bangladesh and India has increased manifold during recent years and the highest number of tourists coming to India last year were Bangladeshis. Likewise, a large number of technically qualified Indian nationals are currently engaged in Bangladesh’s health, IT, banking and other service sectors.

Now, continuation of that momentum is important. We need to think how we could make these relations irreversible. More economic integration would be one critical area, where we need to engage in big projects in the area of connectivity, energy etc. so that all these ‘economic dependency’ acts as a stabilizer of our relations.

In recent times the bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh has reached its peak, how do you see this and according to you what are the more substantial methods to grow these opportunities in a best suitable way?

You will agree that in this age of globalization, greater economic integration is the call of the day worldwide and we are happy that the trade and commerce between our two countries are increasing. The balance of trade, however, is still largely in India’s favour. Bangladesh has offered three Special Economic Zones for Indian investors and we seek substantial investment from Indian investors in these three Indian Economic Zones in Bangladesh namely Mongla, Bheramara and Mirsarai to broaden our exportable base. We hope that this would lead to expansion of Bangladesh’s exports to India and thus create a balanced trade and commercial bilateral ties.

The most practical course of action would be to set up series of “buy-back” projects. Similar trading arrangements also exist between US-Canada and US-Mexico. Through these buy-back projects, within a very short time, Canada and Mexico have emerged as the largest trading partners of the USA. If they can do it, we can do it as well. Indian investors should take advantage of our competent labour costs and closer proximity to North-East markets.

Which are the potential investment opportunities being in Bangladesh and how the Government is supporting the investors in terms of creating healthy environment for them?

Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina and her Government have given maximum importance to transform Bangladesh into one of the most favoured investment destinations in South Asia and all the policies and practices are now in place to create a favourable environment to carry out necessary businesses of the investors. Massive reforms have been undertaken in service deliveries of the associated Ministries, Departments and agencies to ensure world class services for the investors.

As a result, Bangladesh is being considered as the most liberal and business friendly economy in this region and one of the most attractive destinations for business and investment. Its investment climate offer generous and attractive packages of incentives to investors. There is no discrimination between the local and foreign investors. Prevailing laws and practices fully guarantee the safety of the investment and their returns. Geographically, also, Bangladesh is located in such a position, where it can act as a hub of connectivity between South and South-East Asia.

Taking advantage of all these incentives, we may delve into joint venture partnership in important sectors such as Agro Processing, Automobiles, Ceramics, Chemicals, Gems and Jewellery, Light Engineering, ICT, Hospital and Medical Equipment, Pharmaceuticals, Plastics, Professional Services, Tourism, Textiles (including home textile) etc.

What is your vision and mission to taking relations between India and Bangladesh to the next level?

The momentum is already there. In last 4 years, the political leaderships of both countries have worked hard with sincere commitment and Indo-Bangladesh relations today cover almost every sector of cooperation. India has the closest cooperative ties with Bangladesh among her neighbors. There is hardly any area which does not feature in the Indo-Bangladesh relations. Our vision is to further integrate our two economies so that Bangladesh can take full advantage of the growing economy of India.

What is the presence of Indian business and community in the Bangladesh and their roles in the development of the country?

Several Indian mega companies like Hero-Honda, Tata group or CEAT Tire companies have set up such projects in Bangladesh. Our Private sectors also made their valuable inputs when they signed MoUs for the investment to the tune of $13 billion primarily in the energy sector, during the visit of our Hon’ble Prime Minister to India in April 2017.

The volume of bilateral trade has also been steadily growing during the past seven years, the balance of trade is still largely in India’s favor though. We are trying to improve the trade balance between our two countries and it should be our common endeavor to bring in qualitative and quantitative change in our trade exchanges.

Do you think that Narenda Modi and Sheikh Hasina are writing new page of Indo-Bangladesh relations?

Yes, indeed. Both the Prime Ministers, Shiekh Hasina and Narendra Modi, are deeply committed in promoting the bilateral relations for the betterment of people of two countries. As I said earlier, since assumption of power for the second time in 2009, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has consistently tried to bring in a change in our mindset in our bilateral ties by restoring mutual trust and cooperation by curbing all acts of terrorism. She has firmly controlled the security situation in bordering areas, which has been duly recognized by the government of India. Once the peace and stability were restored, then she gradually tried to further strengthen the economic relations. As I said earlier, today, our cooperation is expanding in the multifarious areas like energy, connectivity, trade & Commerce, culture, people to people contact etc. A total of 35 documents (11 Agreements, 24 MOUs) were signed between the two countries during the visit of Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India in April 2017, which virtually encompasses all possible areas of cooperation.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi after assumption of office in 2014, had also expressed his keen desire to promote all-round bilateral cooperation. The Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) between the two countries was concluded and ratified. The longstanding maritime boundaries between the two countries were also resolved in July of 2015 through UN arbitration. Premier Narendra Modi had demonstrated how a long-standing complex bilateral issue could be resolved unanimously through consultation, compassion, and consensus-building.

There is now a greater recognition on both sides that the destinies of our two neighboring countries are inescapably intertwined and we must grow together. This has been possible only because of the commitment shown by the two prime ministers.

What is your vision 2021? Kindly elaborate.

Vision 2021 actually is the political vision of the current government of Bangladesh led by the Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. It is comprised of some scio-economic target that Bangladesh wants to achieve by the year 2021. The Vision 2021 is, therefore, a broad and comprehensive articulation of where this nation needs to be in 2021 – the year which marks the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence. The most significant target was to transform Bangladesh into a Middle Income Country from the LDC status and you would be happy to know that we have already qualified the criteria of United Nations for graduation from LDC and soon that will come into effect.  Graduation from LDC status to the Middle Income Country status will offer us more opportunities to integrate our two economies.

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