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Keynote Address by Minister of State for External Affairs at Digital Conference on Doing Business with Bangladesh

June 30, 2020

His Excellency Mr Muhammad Imran, Bangladesh High Commissioner to India,
Ms Riva Ganguly Das, our High Commissioner to Bangladesh,
Mr Md. Sirazul Islam, Executive Chairman, Bangladesh Investment Development Authority
Mr David Rasquinha, Managing Director, Exim Bank
Mr. Abdul Matlub Ahmad, President, India Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Mr Sheikh Fazle Fahim, President, Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI)
Mr Chandrajit Banerjee, Director General, Confederation of Indian Industry,
Other Distinguished guests in the Audience
Ladies & Gentlemen,

Namaskaram, Good morning

My best wishes to our Bangladeshi friends on Mujib Barsho.

It is my pleasure to address this august audience and I am confident that our discussions today will be engaging and fruitful.

India and Bangladesh have scripted a Shonali Adhyaya, a golden chapter in our partnership, under the visionary leadership of our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. We have taken bold decisions and resolved decades-old complex issues amicably and with maturity.

There is a mutual desire to further strengthen this relationship in areas that will help bring benefits to the people on the two sides, to our younger generation in a way that is long lasting and based on respect and trust for each other.

Toward this objective, a lot has been done and there is a potential for lot more. When relations transcend the parameters of even a strategic partnership, then sky is the only limit to our ambitions and aspirations.

Since 2014, we have ratified the Land Boundary Agreement, settled maritime boundary, increased our assistance to Bangladesh by approximately 8 times, making it the largest recipient of our aid at uniquely concessional terms, have signed agreements on connectivity, implemented agreements to supply 1160 MW of power to Bangladesh at cheapest cost, issued 7.3 million visas to Bangladeshi nationals with 1.6 million alone last year (making our visa operation largest in Bangladesh), trained over 7000 civil servants and lawyers and implemented some 40 plus projects in areas relating to sanitation, waste management, restoration, health etc. under grant-in-aid.

We also appreciate the cooperation rendered by our Bangladeshi friends in understanding India’s connectivity needs via Bangladesh and for being a reliable trade partner for our North Eastern states which hugely depend on exports from Bangladesh. We will urge Bangladesh to also consider importing more from our north eastern region in view of their developmental needs.

Today both sides, cognizant of the potential of connectivity, are implementing several key projects in rail and road sector. People are traveling to each other’s country by land, rail and air for medical tourism, trade and investment opportunities, visiting their families etc. As tourism is expected to further grow between our two countries, an open sky policy will be in keeping with this positive development.

India and Bangladesh, confident of their growth trajectory and future largely because of their young talented population, have set an example of how neighbours should cooperate. There are investment opportunities in both our countries and as we look at developing Indian Economic Zones in Mirasarai and Mongla, we also urge Bangladesh to invest in our North Eastern states.

As India and Bangladesh share the largest border, we need to focus on the socio-economic development of bordering districts on both sides. Sometimes for want of opportunities available, we have criminal elements committing crimes, attacking security forces and disturbing the peace and harmony that exists between our two countries. There is an urgent need to focus on the development of these areas and therefore haats spread along the border is a welcome development. In the same spirit, we should cooperate on developmental works that get undertaken on either side of the border.

Today, Bangladesh is one of the biggest exporters of Ready Made Garments to the world. "Made in Bangladesh” brand is now known globally. Here too, we can cooperate. We see Bangladesh as a partner in the value chain. India will continue to be a reliable and efficient supplier of raw material to Bangladesh. I recommend that we explore more cooperation in this important sector like facilitating exchanges between our premier textile design institutes, capacity building, textile machinery etc.

As we are linked by land, we are also connected by 54 rivers that sustain us and cherish us. Our approach must take into account the needs of future generations and we need to expand our cooperation in areas including river water restoration, their sustainable use, address the issue of pollution in rivers, erosion etc.

On the economic front, as we talk of opportunities and challenges, we are happy to see that Bangladesh has done well on both social and economic fronts over the last ten years, with GDP growth rate of over 7% and is soon to graduate from the LDC status. Bangladesh’s exports to India have crossed 1 billion making India the second country in Asia after Japan where its exports have crossed a billion mark. Currently, we trade more with Bangladesh than any other South Asian neighbour.

All this points towards sincere efforts on both sides at further expanding and deepening our bilateral relations. As democratically elected governments accountable to our people, it will be important to highlight the gains and progress made while implementing our mutually beneficial partnership.

The ongoing Covid situation has opened up new opportunities for collaboration in digital realm- start ups, IT, online workshops, consultancy etc. We appreciate Bangladesh’s commitment of USD 1.5 million to SAARC Covid fund and only by cooperative approaches can we together deal with this pandemic which has led to disruptions in trade, supply chains, investments and employments. It poses several uncomfortable questions for the international community and raises the issue of accountability. That India and Bangladesh both having dense population, have managed low mortality rate is commendable and highlights the resilience of our systems. India has conducted online programme for medical professionals exclusively in Bangla language at the request of Bangladeshi participants and we stand prepared to further assist Bangladesh in mitigating the health and economic impact of the pandemic.

This situation has also presented both challenges and opportunities in conducting trade. The congestion at land borders offers possibilities to explore inland water routes and trade via rail. These are eco-friendly efficient and logistically cheaper options. We are glad that trade in essential commodities particularly in the holy month of Ramadan, had continued through the rail route.

As we are also looking at creating new economic partnership for the future, there are opportunities to go beyond trade in goods and look at trade in services. Given the depth of our bilateral ties, we should move forward in this direction with confidence.

I want to reassure that India is and will continue to remain a committed development partner of Bangladesh, and will continue to be be governed by Bangladesh’s priorities. Our ongoing projects in Bangladesh are aimed at improving infrastructure in sectors like ports, power, railways and roads making investment environment all the more conductive in Bangladesh.

There are other equally important facets of this ever expanding relationship which are historical and have been forged in blood and sacrifice for a noble cause. As we celebrate Mujib Barsho this year and the 50th year of liberation of Bangladesh as well as establishment of diplomatic relations next year, we must do all that it takes to ensure that values that we fought and stood for remain cherished. We look forward to jointly celebrating these historic years with the government and the people of Bangladesh.

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