Bangladesh and Bhutan are situated in South Asia geographically. They share a common regional platform such as BIMTEC, SAARC. There are some harmonies between Bangladesh and Bhutan in sphere of mutual interest, shared history, culture.
On December 6, 1971, Bhutan and India became the first countries to recognize the independence of Bangladesh. Bangladesh will never the Bhutanese support and contribution during the liberation war in 1971. Relations between Bangladesh and Bhutan started to deep from this period.
Bangladesh and Bhutan have a common identity in the world. Both are peace lovers and peacekeepers. The peace-loving people of Bhutan and Bangladesh shared similar views on many regional issues. Bangladesh is a humanitarian democratic country in South Asia.
Bhutan is also a democratic country in the world. Bhutan and Bangladesh have many potentials to work with each other for the better promotion of democracy, peace-keeping, regional stability, betterment of People, etc.
The entire region has a huge potential for development. To ensure that the leaderships of both countries have since exchanged many state visits. In 2016, the President of Bangladesh addressed the Parliament of Bhutan.
On 6 December 2020, both countries signed a Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) with provisions for free trade in certain goods. The signing of the PTA was witnessed by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh and the Prime Minister of Bhutan.
The Bhutanese PM came Bangladesh to mark the birth centenary of the founder of Bangladesh Father of the nation’s Bangabandhu and 50 years of Bangladesh Independence.
It is very pertinent to mention that PM Lote Tshering studied at Mymensingh medical college. He can speak in Bangla. Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina is also very interested to strengthen the ties.
This is the first PTA Bangladesh has signed with any country in the world. The PTA aims to establish a preferential trading arrangement, explore all appropriate measures to facilitate and promote bilateral trade. The PTA is expected to build upon the existing friendly relations and strengthen the mutual cooperation in the field of trade and commerce between the two countries.
With the signing of the PTA, 16 more products from Bhutan will enjoy duty-free access to Bangladesh, in addition to the existing 18 products. Likewise, 10 more products from Bangladesh will enjoy duty-free access to Bhutan in addition to the existing 90 products.
However, Under the PTA 100 Bangladeshi products will get duty-free access to Bhutan. At the same time, 34 items from Bhutan will get duty-free access into Bangladesh. Further items can be added to the list later on the basis of discussion between the two countries.
Goods like Jute and Jute products, baby clothes and accessories, men’s trousers, jackets and blazers are among the 100 items from Bangladesh which will get duty-free access to Bhutan. On the other hand fruit juice, natural honey, wheat flour jams, jellies and limestone, quartzite, etc. from Bhutan will have duty-free access to Bangladesh.
The trade volume between the two countries is approximately 50 million dollars with 7.56 million of export and 42.09 million imports into Bangladesh.
The areas between Bangladesh and Bhutan are many, including trade, tourism, hydropower, climate change impacts, health, protection of bio-diversity, agro-processing, agriculture, ICT, education, water resource management and much more.
Both have many other ways in where Bangladesh and Bhutan can cooperate and they are always ready to do it. Bhutan can use the waterways. Bangldesh’s waterways link already has started. Bangladesh is developing Chilmari port. Chilmari port, Narayanganj and Pangaoni can be opened for Bhutan. Not only that, three ports Chittagong, Mongla, Payra can use it.
Sayedpur airport is being developed as a regional airport. So, for Bhutan, it is open. Bhutan can use that airport too. In the sector of railway connectivity, Chilahati railway project can be another opportunity for Bangladesh and Bhutan.
Bangladesh and Bhutan have already established extraordinary relations even more meaningful for mutual benefits and for the overall development and well-being of both citizens. It is in this spirit that we have signed today the Bangladesh-Bhutan PTA.
Under this Agreement, a wide range of products from Bangladesh and Bhutan can find duty-free entry into each other’s markets. The agreement also has a provision for including an additional list of products through mutual consensus.
Once the agreement comes into force, more people in Bangladesh will get access to have good apples and oranges from Bhutan and other fruits and other vegetables and other things. And also from Bangladesh the fashion-conscious people Bhutan can choose from more varieties of quality apparel from Bangladesh.
Infrastructure projects in Bangladesh can further benefit from boulder stones from Bhutan, while Bangladeshi pharmaceuticals can enhance their contribution to the health sector in Bhutan. Bhutan is today a democratic, modern and progressive country. Bhutan’s concept of ‘Gross National Happiness’ has won the admiration of the world.
Bangladeshi NGOs can participate in the development process in Bhutan. Bhutan can utilize more the human resource of Bangladesh to serve its own interest. This PTA will ensure mutual benefit for Bangladesh and Bhutan.
Bangladesh and Bhutan’s aim is similar and that is to strengthen democracy, achieve economic growth and make their citizen happy individuals of hunger-poverty-free developed-prosperous countries.
Bangladesh’s Vision 2021 and Vision 2041 are guided by the dream of Golden Bangladesh as envisioned by the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Already significant progress has been made on food and energy security, education, poverty alleviation, empowerment of women, social welfare, and development with sustained economic growth.
As we endeavor to reach the goals, Bangladesh wants valuable cooperation of its friends and neighbours to strengthen its government’s initiatives, including regional connectivity designed to make all in the region prosperous.
Bangladesh has shared excellent cooperation with Bhutan and other South Asian neighbors and beyond. Stronger regional and international cooperation is necessary for the coming days for mitigating the impact of the pandemic and for the rebuilding phase.
Bangladesh is going to be a rising South Asian economic superstar. Bangladesh would like to play a significant and vital role to tackle some regional problems. Bhutan and Bangladesh can work together in these sectors. Bhutan can also play in Bangladesh to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic using its well-known strategy.
[The author, Md Pathik Hasan, is a Dhaka-based NGO worker, freelance writer (particularly current International issues). He can be reached at [email protected]]