Sherpa Hossainy's Blog

Bangladesh sees billion-dollar trade potential in Myanmar

Posted in Bangladesh, Dhaka, Economy, Export and Import, Myanmar, Yangon by Sherpa Hossainy on July 10, 2013

Renews pledge to boost cooperation

Published in Myanmar Business Today (Vol 1, Issue 21) on June 27, 2013

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Bangladesh and Myanmar can increase their bilateral trade up to a billion dollar if service-based trade can be bolstered, a top Bangladesh government official said.

“Our current bilateral trade is mainly goods-related, but the service-related trade hasn’t expanded that much. Bangladesh has an established service sector in banking and insurance, and these sectors haven’t developed much here. There’s also good potential for pharmaceuticals and IT services,” Md Shahidul Haque, foreign secretary of Bangladesh, told Myanmar Business Today.

“There are opportunities for expanding the exchange of services. The potential is huge. It can definitely cross the billion-dollar mark if we can add the services sector in our trade,” he said.

The bilateral trade between the two neighbours amounted to only about $79 million in 2011-12 fiscal year, while it stood at $190 million in 2010-11 fiscal. Bangladesh exported goods to Myanmar worth $13.45 million during the fiscal year 2011-12.

Bangladesh Foreign Secretary

Md Shahidul Haque (L), foreign secretary of Bangladesh, with Anup Kumar Chakma, ambassador of Bangladesh to Myanmar. Sherpa Hossainy

“At first we want to take the current trade volume up to $500 million,” Shahidul said. Myanmar was in a difficult situation and under various sanctions, so increasing the trade volume was hard as “we had to work within certain limits,” he added.

Shahidul said Bangladeshi private sector can facilitate in providing technical assistance to Myanmar, especially in garment industry, being the second largest garment exporter in the world behind China. “Exchange of technical expertise will be discussed during the next Joint Trade Commission meeting,” he said.

The Bangladesh Foreign Secretary was in Myanmar from June 12-17 to attend the 7th round of Foreign Office Consultations (FOC), where foreign secretaries of the two countries meet and review a range of bilateral political, economic and security issues. “We looked at ways to strengthen our relations and how both countries can grow,” Shahidul said, adding that trade and border issues were the main focal points.

During the talks Myanmar welcomed the four-country “Kunming initiative”, a sub-regional organisation that includes Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM), born in 1999 out of the attempts to link the development plans of the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan to India’s ‘Look East policy.’ BCIM is a sub-regional organisation of Asian nations aimed at greater integration of trade and investment between the four countries.

“For a long time it was a Track II initiative but India and China has brought it up to Track I. Bangladesh and Myanmar has now decided to actively take part in the initiative and we will join the Track I force,” Shahidul said.

‘Track II diplomacy’ is a specific kind of informal diplomacy, in which non-officials engage in dialogue with the aim of confidence-building, while the term ‘Track I diplomacy’ refers to official governmental diplomacy, or a technique of state action, which is essentially a process whereby communications from one government go directly to the decision-making apparatus of another.

Shahidul led a 14-member Bangladesh delegation to the talks, while his counterpart Deputy Foreign Minister U Thant Kyaw, led a 20-member Myanmar delegation. Ambassador of Bangladesh to Myanmar Anup Kumar Chakma, along with senior officials from seven ministries and agencies of the Bangladesh government also took part.

During his visit in Nay Pyi Taw, the Foreign Secretary called on Deputy Ministers for Commerce, Home and Electric Power, and concerned members of the delegation met the Ministry of Transport officials. Both countries acknowledged the importance of increasing connectivity and expressed intention to sign the revised air service agreement soon.

“We will quickly start the air link programme. However, it’s not easy for the government to start the air link; private sector also has to take the initiative. We hope the agreement will be finalised next month” Shahidul said.

In a bid to have the best of neighbourly relations, Bangladesh and Myanmar pledged to begin an era of partnership based on trust and confidence for stronger economic ties and stability along the borders. To enhance security and stability at their common borders at land and sea, the two sides expressed willingness to address a range of trans-boundary crimes along the borders, including human, drugs and arms trafficking, and money laundering. The two sides also agreed to bolster regular interactions between the two border forces as well as civil administrations of the bordering districts of Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The two countries talked about the establishment of direct coastal shipping link and agreed to complete all necessary formalities for the purpose. They also agreed to renew the expired Agreement on Cultural Cooperation and conclude a memorandum of understanding on cultural exchange programme.

Bangladesh offered to arrange short diplomatic training courses for the mid-and junior-level diplomats of Myanmar, and invited Myanmar to send a delegation to an international conference on peace, tolerance and non-violence to be held in Bangladesh later this year. Bangladesh also proposed greater exchanges between Buddhist scholars to deepen intercultural understanding between the two countries.

The bilateral talks also focused on cooperation under regional frameworks like the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and BCIM. BIMSTEC is a regional cooperation organisation involving Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal. Myanmar is the current Chair of BIMSTEC and will hold the next BIMSTEC Summit in early September this year.

The Myanmar delegation said the discussions will “strengthen goodwill, confidence, mutual trust and understanding between the two countries,” while Shahidul hoped “the existing trade barriers will be removed soon in a bid to strengthen the political, cultural and economic cooperation between the two neighbours.”

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