JEDDAH: Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia have maintained cordial and close bonds since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1975. The friendship is characterized by mutual understanding and a deep sense of fraternity.
The Kingdom is the largest and most valued destination for the Bangladeshi workforce, which contributes significantly to the national development of both countries. Remittance flows from Saudi Arabia to Bangladesh comprised almost 22 percent of the total amount, which was approximately $34 billion, in 2018.
Both countries share common views on many regional and international issues, particularly those relating to the Islamic community. These shared priorities, perspectives and fraternal relations have strengthened the collaboration within the United Nations, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and other international and regional forums. Existing bonds have been reinforced by ever-deepening bilateral ties in the fields of trade, investment, defense, culture, education and manpower. The Kingdom now stands as one of Bangladesh’s most important bilateral partners and the relationship dynamics have evolved from one-dimensional to multilayered cooperation over the years to reach its present maturity.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina embarked on her sixth official visit to Saudi Arabia last October to strengthen bonds at the highest levels. She had an audience with King Salman and met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The king and prime minister discussed ties, as well as regional and international issues of mutual interest. Both leaders commended the unprecedented gain in momentum of bilateral relations in recent years, and emphasized the further expansion of relations through cooperation and engagement.
Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform plan gives Bangladesh the opportunity to explore new areas of engagement in manpower, trade, investment, education and agriculture.
Bangladesh also has a vision: To become a middle-income country by 2021 and to attain the status of a high mid-income country by 2041. These goals warrant engagement in fast-growing trade and economic cooperation with major partners like Saudi Arabia.
During the meeting between the king and prime minister it was reiterated that the cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh would continue, and that both countries would be development partners.
There will be an exchange of economic and investment-related delegations and economic, cultural and defense cooperation will play a pivotal role in fulfilling those objectives.
The prime minister appreciated the visionary role played by King Salman in the development of the Muslim community. There is a special place for Saudi Arabia in the heart of Bangladeshi Muslims, as the Two Holy Mosques exist in Makkah and Madinah, and Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Thus, a great opportunity exists between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia to work together to disseminate the real message of Islam so that nobody can benefit from misrepresenting the religion.
In her meeting with the crown prince, the prime minister highlighted recent development activities, particularly in food security, housing, education, and poverty reduction. Bangladesh offered to allocate land for an exclusive economic zone for Saudi Arabia, which should encourage more Saudi investors to Bangladesh. The crown prince said Saudi Arabia was interested in broadening its relationship with Bangladesh for the mutual benefit of both countries. He emphasized regular interaction of business bodies to further accelerate trade and investment.
The prime minister also attended a business seminar in the capital that was organized by the Council of Saudi Chambers and Bangladesh Embassy in Riyadh. She urged Saudi entrepreneurs and businessmen to invest in the 100 Special Economic Zones in priority sectors such as energy, power, infrastructure and communication networks, IT, textiles and agro-based industries. She also called on them to take advantage of the investment and business climate in Bangladesh.
She expressed hope that Saudi entrepreneurs would particularly benefit if they opted for those zones set aside for Saudi investors.
Earlier this month a ministerial-level delegation went to Bangladesh to explore business and investment opportunities. The team comprised 32 members from the government and private sector, including delegates from the Public Investment Fund and the Saudi Fund for Development. Two agreements and four memoranda of understanding were signed on investment cooperation. The two sides also agreed to review progress within the next two months.
It is expected that the overall relationship dynamic between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia will fundamentally change in the next few years.