Greece, Bangladesh Vow To Expand Cooperation In Key Sectors: From Shipping To Manpower – OpEd

Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Dr. Hassan Mahmud and his Greek counterpart, George Gerapetritis, convened a bilateral meeting on Tuesday (April 16, 2024). The meeting took place at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens, coinciding with the 9th Our Ocean Conference held from April 15 to 17. During this significant gathering, both ministers affirmed their dedication to bolstering bilateral cooperation across various domains, encompassing migration and mobility, trade and investment, shipping, manpower and recruitment, as well as the development of renewable and alternative energy infrastructure.

Greece extended recognition to Bangladesh on March 11, 1972, following the return of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation, in January of the same year. The two nations share common perspectives on various regional and global issues, fostering a longstanding friendly relationship. Bangladesh and Greece have traditionally maintained amicable ties, with a deep understanding of Greek history and culture prevalent among Bangladesh’s intelligentsia and academia.

Currently, the bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and Greece is significantly influenced by the presence of a substantial number of Bangladeshi expatriates residing and working in Greece. Despite the recent economic downturn in Greece, Bangladeshi nationals continue to contribute to sectors such as agriculture and hospitality, albeit amidst a decreased demand for labor. Over the years, several bilateral visits have taken place between the two countries, aimed at strengthening ties and exploring avenues for cooperation. These visits include engagements by high-ranking officials such as ministers of various portfolios, signifying the commitment of both nations to fostering closer relations. Noteworthy among these interactions was the meeting between H.E. Sheikh Hasina, Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bangladesh, and the former Prime Minister of Greece, Mr. Antonis C. Samaras, during the ASEM summit in Milan in October 2014. During this meeting, discussions centered on enhancing trade and commerce for mutual benefit, with both leaders expressing appreciation for the historical ties between their countries.

Bilateral trade between Bangladesh and Greece has witnessed steady growth, with Bangladesh primarily exporting ready-made garments, frozen food, chemicals, ceramics, jute, and leather products to Greece. Despite existing trade agreements, such as the Agreement on Economical and Technical Cooperation signed in February 1987 and the Protocol on Political Consultations inked in April 2010, there remain opportunities for further enhancing bilateral trade and commerce. Negotiations are also underway for an Agreement on Cultural and Educational Cooperation, with the Greek side proposing an Agreement on Readmission of undocumented Bangladeshis, currently under review by Bangladesh.

In 2022, Greece exported goods worth $64.8 million to Bangladesh, including Raw Cotton, Textile Processing Machines, and Integrated Circuits. Over the past 27 years, Greek exports to Bangladesh have exhibited an annualized growth rate of 8.98%, highlighting the strengthening economic relationship between the two nations. Conversely, Bangladesh exported goods valued at $110 million to Greece in 2022, with notable items being Knit T-shirts, Non-Knit Men’s Suits, and Knit Sweaters. The annualized growth rate of Bangladeshi exports to Greece during the same period stands at 8.19%, underscoring the mutual benefits derived from trade relations. The Bangladeshi community in Greece plays a significant role in contributing to the Greek economy, with many engaged in businesses and small-scale entrepreneurship. Renowned for their discipline and adherence to laws and regulations, Bangladeshi workers in Greece have earned a favorable reputation, leading to their integration into Greek society. Their commitment to learning the Greek language further facilitates their assimilation into the local community.

As Bangladesh endeavors to graduate from the status of a Least Developed Country (LDC) and diversify its economic portfolio, Greece emerges as a pivotal partner in this journey. 

However, recognizing the potential synergies between their economies, both ministers on 16 April expressed satisfaction with the existing cooperation and bilateral relations. Furthermore, the Greek Foreign Minister graciously accepted an invitation extended by Dr. Mahmud to visit Dhaka, highlighting the prospect of inaugurating the Greek Diplomatic Mission in Bangladesh’s capital. Acknowledging the significance of this diplomatic gesture, the Greek government reiterated its commitment to establishing a Diplomatic Mission in Dhaka, signifying the importance attributed to bilateral ties.

During the deliberations, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister emphasized the importance of encouraging Greek businesses to import high-quality Bangladeshi products while urging facilitation of exports from Bangladesh. In response, the Greek Foreign Minister acknowledged the untapped potential in bilateral trade and investment and pledged to explore strategies to stimulate growth in these areas. Both ministers recognized the critical role of the shipping sector in fostering mutually beneficial cooperation and committed to building a robust legal framework to support collaboration in this domain.

Both Bangladesh and Greece occupy strategic positions for maritime trade. Bangladesh sits on the Bay of Bengal, a vital link between Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Greece, with its numerous islands and Aegean Sea access, is a historic maritime hub connecting Europe, Africa, and Asia. This strategic positioning suggests potential for collaboration in transshipment (reloading cargo between vessels) and creating efficient shipping routes. Besides, Bangladesh’s exports are set to sail smoothly with Greece as a partner. Greece controls a whopping 31% of the world’s oil tankers, 25% of bulk carriers, and significant shares in other cargo ships (LNG: 22%, Chemical/Product: 15%, LPG: 11%) (UGS data). This expertise can transform Bangladesh’s shipping industry, allowing them to compete more effectively in global trade.

Furthermore, the meeting underscored the significance of migration and mobility agreements between the two countries. Dr. Mahmud expressed gratitude for Greece’s efforts in legalizing the status of over 10,000 Bangladeshi nationals residing in Greece under the Migration and Mobility Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). He emphasized the importance of smooth implementation of the MoU’s second phase, which is integral to ensuring the welfare of Bangladeshi expatriates in Greece. In response, the Greek Foreign Minister highlighted the contributions of Bangladeshi professionals to Greece’s economy and affirmed Greece’s commitment to recruiting skilled Bangladeshi workers across various sectors, including agriculture, tourism, hospitality, and construction.

The bilateral meeting between Bangladesh and Greece reaffirmed the commitment of both nations to deepening their cooperation across multiple fronts. From trade and investment to migration and mobility, the discussions underscored the mutual benefits derived from collaboration and the shared commitment to harnessing the full potential of their partnership. As both countries continue to navigate the evolving global landscape, their concerted efforts to strengthen bilateral ties serve as a testament to the enduring friendship and strategic partnership between Bangladesh and Greece.