Strengthening Bilateral Ties: Bangladesh-UAE Diplomatic Relations And Economic Cooperation – OpEd

On March 8, 2024, the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates emphasized the need to elevate bilateral relations to a heightened level of economic partnership. The Honorable Foreign Minister, Dr. Hasan Mahmud, MP, engaged in a bilateral meeting with his counterpart, His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, at the royal palace in Al Ain city of Abu Dhabi Emirates.

In 1974, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman embarked on an official visit to the UAE, where he held a significant meeting with the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, laying the foundation for a robust friendship between the two nations. In reciprocation, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE, visited Bangladesh in 1984 to expand bilateral relations.

Several key agreements have bolstered cooperation between Bangladesh and the UAE over the years. A cultural cooperation agreement was signed in March 1978, followed by a General Trade Agreement in 1984. In January 2011, agreements on the Avoidance of Double Taxation and Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investment were inked to further enhance economic cooperation. Additionally, an Air Services Agreement was signed in October 2017 to strengthen relations between the two countries. The UAE has emerged as a significant trading partner and a major source of investment for Bangladesh in the Middle East. Bilateral trade has seen a notable increase, reaching $1.3 billion in 2019. The economic collaboration between Bangladesh and the UAE has evolved into a vibrant and mutually advantageous partnership, poised for remarkable expansion in 2023.

During this period, bilateral trade surged to a remarkable $1.8 billion, underscoring the robust and enduring character of their economic partnership. Bangladesh exports various goods to the UAE, including readymade garments, knitwear, agricultural products, and jute goods, while importing crude oil and petroleum products from the UAE. With around $7.0 billion invested in energy, ports, power, and infrastructure sectors, the UAE stands as one of the largest foreign investors in Bangladesh. Over 700,000 Bangladeshi workers, skilled and unskilled, reside and work in the UAE, contributing significantly to both countries’ economies.

In 2014, Bangladesh extended Visa on Arrival (VOA) facilities to UAE nationals, fostering easier travel between the two countries. The formation of the Bangladesh Business Council in the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry aimed to facilitate business networking and exchange of commercial information. High-level visits, including those by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, have strengthened the partnership between Bangladesh and the UAE. During her visits, several memoranda of understanding (MoUs) on economic cooperation were signed, further solidifying the relationship. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s recent visit to the UAE in January 2024, upon invitation by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, marked another milestone in Bangladesh’s engagement with the nation.

Attending the “Abu Dhabi Sustainable Week” and the “Zayed Sustainable Awards Ceremony,” PM Hasina emphasized the importance of strengthening ties and boosting trade and investment relations, directing Bangladeshi diplomats in the Middle Eastern countries to intensify efforts towards these goals during the Envoys’ Conference at Shangri-La Hotel in Abu Dhabi.

Influenced by political, economic, and cultural ties, the UAE holds a significant position in Bangladesh’s foreign policy landscape. Notably, the UAE was the inaugural Gulf nation to acknowledge Bangladesh and formalize diplomatic ties. Moreover, it played a pivotal role in securing Bangladesh’s membership in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). On March 23, 1974, Bangladesh inaugurated its embassy in Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s capital city Moreover, during a bilateral meeting in March 2022 between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and UAE Vice President and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, both parties reached an agreement.

Subsequently, Bangladesh and the UAE signed four Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) aimed at enhancing bilateral cooperation. The exchange of these agreements took place in the presence of the two leaders. The MoUs encompass cooperation in various areas, including higher education and scientific research between Bangladesh and the UAE, collaboration between the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) and the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), cooperation between the foreign services academies of both countries, and collaboration between the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) and the Dubai International Chamber.

However, during the March 8, 2024 meeting, both ministers conducted a comprehensive review of the existing bilateral cooperation and underscored the importance of exploring new and emerging areas of collaboration. These areas include energy security, food security, environment and climate change, renewable energy, and fostering people-to-people contact.

At the onset of the discussion, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh acknowledged the historic bonds of friendship between the two brotherly countries, laid by the founding fathers of their respective nations. He commended the remarkable progress and development achieved by the UAE over the past five decades and highlighted Bangladesh’s economic advancements under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The ministers also delved into the state of bilateral trade and exchanged ideas to further strengthen commercial relations. The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh outlined ongoing and potential investment opportunities for the UAE government and businesses, particularly emphasizing areas such as the Matarbari Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), port and logistics management, and the development of land gifted to Sheikh Zayed in Rangunia, Chittagong.

Endorsing the proposals put forth by the Foreign Minister, the UAE leader expressed eagerness to advance ongoing investment and economic initiatives. He emphasized the importance of activating the Joint Business Council (JBC) between the business communities of both countries and highlighted the significance of signing the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) to bolster economic, trade, and investment ties further.

During the meeting, the Foreign Minister presented an invitation letter addressed to the UAE President from the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, inviting him to visit Bangladesh on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Bangladesh and the UAE. The two leaders also exchanged views on regional issues, including the situation of Rohingya refugees and the ongoing Gaza conflict.

Of particular importance, Dr. Mahmud reiterated his request to reopen manpower recruitment in various trades, especially for skilled professionals, nurses, healthcare technicians, and professionals, as well as for company-to-company transfer of visas. The UAE Minister attentively listened and responded positively to the request.

Accompanying the Foreign Minister in the meeting were the Ambassador to the UAE and the Director-General of West Asia at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The diplomatic and economic ties between Bangladesh and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have evolved significantly, driven by shared interests and mutual benefits. Highlighted by historical visits and bolstered by key agreements, their partnership has seen remarkable growth, particularly in trade and investment. Recent high-level meetings have further solidified this relationship, resulting in the signing of crucial memoranda of understanding aimed at enhancing collaboration across various sectors. Looking forward, both nations are poised to explore new areas of cooperation, emphasizing energy security, food security, and renewable energy. With a commitment to strengthening their ties, Bangladesh and the UAE are set to embark on a path of even closer collaboration and mutual prosperity.