President Mohammed Abdul Hamid of Bangladesh returned home last Friday after completing his 4-day official goodwill visit to Nepal at the friendly invitation of President Bidya Devi Bhandari. He was warmly received and seen off at the airport by President Bhandari. Apart from his courtesy call on President Bhandari, President Hamid had meetings with top political leaders like Vice President Nanda B Pun, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and former Prime Minister and CPN chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, among others. These meetings were more than formal, as they covered wide ranging bilateral issues ranging from connectivity in roads, railways, airways and waterways to trade, tourism, education, culture and hydroelectric generation. Bangladesh has shown interest in promoting cooperation in the energy sector and has expressed its readiness for power trade.
Trade deficit Trade deficit is a matter of concern for both countries, although the balance of trade is currently in favour of Bangladesh. Nepali goods can find access to the Bangladeshi market if zero tariff rate is levied. Likewise, Nepal would allow Bangladeshi exports on concessional terms. Garment is a thriving industry in Bangladesh, for which Nepal is in a position to export yarn in abundance. It is reported that at the recently held bilateral trade talks, which covered a comprehensive agenda of 23 items, such as power trade, visa facilitation for Nepali students, cargo carrying vehicles, use of Bangladeshi ports and export of yarn from Nepal, which is badly needed by Bangladesh for its garment industry, priority was given to yarn export but no progress has been made on this issue. While Bangladesh could import from Nepal plenty of green vegetables and fruits of citrus variety like orange, apple, pear and peach and goods like cardamom, cement, sand and boulders for which demand is increasing annually in that country, Nepal could import Bangladeshi products like medicines and textiles. Further possibilities of trade promotion, expansion and diversification could be explored. President Hamid was positive on his country’s cooperation in reducing trade deficit with Nepal. PM Oli has invited Bangladeshi investors to invest in energy projects in order to facilitate the power trade and supply of Nepal’s electricity to Bangladesh. PM Oli, in fact, discussed with President Hamid the importance and necessity of developing mutually beneficial economic partnership. While Nepal informed the visiting dignitary that bilateral trade has not been as encouraging as it should be, the Prime Minister of Nepal discussed with the honoured guest from Bangladesh a variety of issues of bilateral concern and interest such as infrastructure building at border entry points, using ports in Bangladesh, trade promotion and tourism development and energy cooperation. The President was apprised of VNY 2020 which is expected to attract two million tourists from different parts of the world. President Hamid’s trip to Pokhara is expected to encourage Bangladeshi tourists to visit Nepal in large numbers and make VNY 2020 a success. Nepal is hosting in April next year Sagarmatha Dialogue with special focus on climate change. Bangladesh has positively responded to Nepal’s request for active participation in this Dialogue. The President of Bangladesh also referred to Nepal’s national aspiration for ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali’. Nepal has noted with aspiration the President’s pledge to support in every possible way this national aspiration and make it a reality. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in April 1972. Bilateral relations have ever since remained close, cordial, friendly and cooperative. Nepal was overwhelmed when Bangladesh, a coastal country, co-sponsored a resolution tabled by land-locked countries in the UN’s economic committee in the mid-seventies of the last century. Nepal has, however, not been able to fully utilise the port facilities provided by Bangladesh. Likewise, at the time of special session on economic matters convened by the UN in 1980, Nepal and Bangladesh closely worked together to champion the cause of least developed countries (LDCs). SAARC, it may be recalled, which was launched in Dhaka in 1985 was the outcome of a joint initiative taken by Nepal and Bangladesh. Both countries have worked together, in the spirit of partnership, in regional forums like SAARC and BIMSTEC and multilateral forums like the UN in resolving issues of regional and global concern like international terrorism, poverty alleviation, environmental degradation and climate change. A large number of Nepali students have gone to Bangladesh to pursue higher studies in technical subjects like medicine, engineering and agriculture. During my ambassadorial tenure from 1987 to 1991, one of the functions of the embassy was to help these students get admitted to their respective universities in Bangladesh without hassles. At present, four thousand Nepali students are pursuing higher studies in different subjects and their complaint has been regarding visa problems. Hamid is reported to have committed himself to taking initiative in resolving the visa problems faced by Nepali students. This sounds highly encouraging.
Mutual cooperation It has been nearly 50 years since Bangladesh emerged as a sovereign independent country. Despite the tragedy suffered by this country from the brutal assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman, popularly known as Bangbandhu or the Father of the Nation, Bangladesh has, over the years, made tremendous progress in accelerating the pace of socio-economic development and reducing poverty. Bangladesh is gradually reducing its dependence on external aid for development. Recently, it has graduated from LDC status. PM Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Sheikh Mujib, is determined to realise the dreams of her father and regain the lost glory and heritage of Bangladesh. As close neighbours, separated only by a distance of 30 km, Nepal and Bangladesh can march ahead, hand in hand, on the road to peace, prosperity and stability through mutual cooperation and commitment to a common cause which is regional and global peace and stability.
(Dr Lohani is Nepal’s former ambassador to Bangladesh)