Dhaka and Colombo have agreed to improve air and sea connectivity to boost trade and tourism.

“Sri Lanka has agreed to sign the Coastal Shipping Agreement and Standard Operating Procedure on the feeder services between Chattogram and Colombo soon,” Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said.

Recognising the importance of enhanced air connectivity to promote people-to-people contact, tourism, and trade, both sides agreed to have Bangladeshi carriers launch flights to Colombo, he said.

The minister disclosed this at a press conference at the Foreign Service Academy yesterday following a meeting between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa arrived in Dhaka on Friday to join the celebrations of Mujib Borsho and golden jubilee of Bangladesh’s independence. He delivered a speech as guest of honour at the celebration and paid his respects at National Martyrs Memorial in Savar and Bangabandhu Memorial Museum in Dhanmondi. He also held meeting with President Abdul Hamid before leaving for Sri Lanka last night.

He led a delegation comprising the minister of education, state minister for regional cooperation, state minister of money and capital market and state enterprise reforms, state minister of batik, handloom fabric and local apparel products, and state minister of rural housing and construction and building material industries, secretary to the prime minister, foreign secretary, and senior government officials of Sri Lanka.

Both the countries signed a new memorandum on cooperation for strengthening youth development, and renewed five other MoUs on agriculture, vocational education, training of nurses, research, and training on foreign affairs, and cultural exchange.

Sri Lanka exported goods worth $133 million to Bangladesh in 2018. Sri Lankan imported from Bangladesh goods valued at $37 million in 2019.

Some 30,000 Sri Lankans work in Bangladesh in merchandising and mid-level management in the garment sectors.

Sri Lanka’s direct investment in Bangladesh is around $400 million.

Experts and officials said that trade between the two countries could be a lot more if connectivity could be improved.

“Sri Lanka and the Maldives both have demands for food and vegetables that we grow. If there are coastal shipping arrangements, we can easily transport the commodities to Colombo and Male,” Momen said.

Briefing reporters, PM’s Press Secretary Ihsanul Karim said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina opined that the bilateral trade was far less than its potential. She said a joint feasibility study for a free trade agreement (FTA) was required.

Emphasising on the importance of facilitating greater private sector participation, she said an FTA should be signed at the earliest possible time.

Momen said Sri Lanka has agreed to sign a Preferential Trade Agreement before signing the FTA.

Hasina said that Sri Lanka has investment in the power sector of Bangladesh. “We encourage Sri Lankan investors to invest more in our special economic zones, and industrial and high-tech parks,” she was quoted as saying.

She said Bangladesh would encourage the Sri Lankan business community to increasingly utilise the opportunities of value addition in Bangladesh’s agriculture sector. Bangladesh would be happy to share its experience in agriculture, particularly in rice farming and fresh water fisheries, reports UNB.

“We would like to obtain technical knowhow from Sri Lanka in coastal, aquaculture, marine culture, and deep-sea fishing,” she was quoted as saying.

“Sri Lanka may benefit immensely by importing our world-class pharmaceutical products and medical devices in greater quantities,” Hasina said adding that this would require the simplification of Sri Lankan registration procedures.

Hasina also said Sri Lanka could utilise Bangladesh’s expertise in the field of ICT. She said Bangladesh would be happy to share with Sri Lanka its long experience in emergency response, disaster management, climate adaptation and mitigation.

According to a joint communique, the two leaders agreed to work for signing an MoU on cooperation in tourism involving tour operators. Bangladesh proposed signing of an MoU on Coastal Cruise Shipping for Tourism between the two countries.

Both sides agreed to undertake measures for trade facilitation, including identification and removal of non-tariff barriers and simplification and harmonisation of mutually recognised standards. Both sides also agreed to diversify the basket of tradable goods and look for innovative ways to add fresh impetus to trade and commercial relations.

The two leaders agreed to establish a Joint Consultative Commission for Comprehensive Cooperation to be headed by the foreign ministers of the two countries.

In a joint communique, the prime ministers reiterated the importance of the voluntary, safe, speedy, dignified and sustainable return of Rohingyas to their homeland.

“Sri Lanka wanted to learn the latest arrangement and said they will support us,” Momen said.

Hasina and Rajapaksa also pledged to work together to counteract challenges of terrorism and violent extremism in both countries, the region and beyond.

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksha invited Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to visit Sri Lanka next year to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

He praised Bangladesh’s digital transformation and its performance and said they would be happy to get Bangladesh’s experiences in agriculture, health, and education issues for mutual benefits.

Rajapaksha sought more attention to tariff preference and said his country would invest more in the private sector.

He sought measures to make easier the repatriation of profits and praised the concept of blue economy of Bangladesh. He said that Sri Lanka was ready to share its experiences in this regard.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam, Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen and Secretary (East) Mashfee Binte Shams were present at the press conference.


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