Bangladesh and Maldives set to deepen ties with Hasina visit

During Hasina's visit, 13 armoured vehicles of the Bangladesh Army will be handed over to the Maldives Defense Department as a symbol of friendship, writes Dr Mohammad Tarikul Islam for South Asia Monitor

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Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's December 22-27 visit to the Maldives (Photo: BSS)

As it marks 50 years of independence, Bangladesh is deepening its multi-dimensional ties with the Maldives, a strategically placed island nation in South Asia, as part of its broader goal of regional integration in trade, connectivity, migration and tourism. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's December 22-27 visit to the Maldives – her first to Male -- is with a focus on regularization of Bangladeshi workers, new recruitment and provision of training and education facilities for Maldivians in Bangladesh.  

During the six-day trip, 13 armoured vehicles of the Bangladesh Army will be handed over to the Maldives Defense Department as a symbol of friendship. 

Trade and investment

The Maldives has planned more resorts that could create job opportunities for Bangladeshis.  Following the Covid-19 epidemic, the Maldives is focusing on improving its health care system and is seeking more specialist doctors and nurses from Bangladesh. 
 
Bilateral trade is, however, only about $7 million -- Bangladeshi imports are worth $3 million and exports to the Maldives total about $4 million.  

Bangladesh and the Maldives, countries with different ecological conditions, social systems as well as historical and cultural backgrounds, are making smooth progress in bilateral relations.  

The two countries established diplomatic relations on September 22, 1978, a full seven years after Bangladesh was born. Male opened its High Commission in Dhaka in 2008.  The Maldives, however, closed its mission in Dhaka in March 2014 after the Foreign Ministry budget was slashed by 40 percent. Bangladesh offered to pay rent for the embassy premises among other local costs but this was not accepted.

Water for Maldives 

Despite this, in December 2014 Bangladesh sent 100,000 liters of water when the Maldives’ sole water desalination plant quit working after bursting into flames. A grateful Maldives reopened its High Commission in Dhaka almost two years after it was shut. 

The two countries desire to strengthen cooperation in a variety of fields including human resource placement, fisheries, health and culture.  

In 2011, Bangladesh traded products worth $0.72 million and imported $1.46 million from the Maldives. It was the year Male removed duty on all Bangladeshi exports.  

The visit by Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohammed Solih in Dhaka on Bangladesh’s Golden Jubilee of Independence and the birth centenary of the Father of the Nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in March 2021 heralded a new avenue of diplomacy between the two Muslim-majority nations. Solih hailed Bangladesh for its economic progress.

Greater connectivity

During Hasina’s visit, the two countries have marked MoUs in various fields including comprehensive cooperation, Foreign Office consultations, fisheries and cultural exchanges. Both realize that in view of the fast-changing global structures, more creative steps are required to protect and promote the interests of smaller economies. 

The Maldives is keen to promote trade and business with Bangladesh by establishing direct air and sea routes. About 100 Maldivian students are pursuing higher studies in Bangladesh. Bangladesh can provide educational opportunities to more students. Around 60,000-80,000 Bangladeshis now work in the Maldives. Male has recruited doctors and nurses from Bangladesh.  

To boost tourism, investors and businessmen must come forward to work together to utilize the existing potentials. The Maldives can import Bangladeshi products including medicines, readymade garments and ceramics.  Establishing direct air and water connectivity between Bangladesh and the Maldives is another vital need. Only this can truly enhance trade and investment ties.  

(The author is an Associate Professor of Government and Politics at Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at t.islam@juniv.edu) 

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