Bangla-Saudi Relations Built on Common Culture, Understanding

Mohammed Rasooldeen, Arab News
Publication Date: 
Sun, 2006-03-26 03:00

The Kingdom and Bangladesh enjoy deep-rooted relations built on common culture, faith cordiality, friendship and mutual understanding, observed the Bangladesh Ambassador Maj. Gen. (Retd) S.M. Ikramul Haque.

“Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia share common hopes and aspirations and share identical views on major political and economic issues in the international arena,” Haque said, adding that exchange of visits by personalities at different levels between the two countries have further boosted existing ties.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia held talks with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah when she visited the Kingdom during last Ramadan. During the meeting, the two leaders discussed wide-ranging issues of bilateral and multilateral interests.

The first official contact between the heads of state took place in July 1977 when the former Bangladesh President Ziaur Rahman paid an official visit to the Kingdom. The president attended the Third Islamic summit conference in Makkah and Taif in February 1981 and also visited Jeddah as member of the OIC Good Office Committee and Reconciliation of Iran and Iraq.

The Joint Economic Commission between the two countries was established when the then Saudi minister of finance visited Dhaka in 1978. The commission met eight times. The last session held in June last year identified the areas of economic and technical cooperation between the countries. The Chambers of Commerce and Industry of the two countries concluded a MOU to enhance visits and organize trade fairs in the two countries. Draft agreements on avoidance of double taxation and protection and promotion of investment are nearing finalization and they will be signed during the course of this year.

Lucrative areas of investment in Bangladesh include power generation, information and communication technology (ICT), infrastructure development, tourism, telecommunication, agriculture, fertilizer plants, food processing and steel and other macro-level industries.

Bangladesh boasts of world-class attractions and tourist facilities. It has the world’s longest unbroken sandy sea-beach along the Bay of Bengal at Cox’s Bazar, the Sundarbans -- largest mangrove forest, the home of the Royal Bengal Tiger, sentinel of the South. The three hill districts are but a fairy-land, make believe paradise for tourists. Bangladesh is an heir to a rich cultural heritage possessing archaeological treasures. The envoy hoped that Saudis would visit Bangladesh for leisure and business to see for themselves the resources of the land.

The Saudi-Bangladesh Industrial and Agricultural Investment Company Ltd. (SABINCO), a joint venture founded by the Saudi Fund for Development with an initial capital of $60 million, has been functioning in Dhaka for the past 16 years. The company has been executing a number of projects in Bangladesh.

Trade between the two countries is on the increase. However, balance of trade has been in favor of the Kingdom because of its enormous oil exports to Bangladesh. In addition to oil, the Kingdom is also exporting polymers, fertilizers, iron, soda ash and dates to Dhaka. Its exports to Saudi Arabia include vegetables, frozen fish, jute yarn and twine, woven garments, knitwear, footwear, leather products, jute products rice, tea, and dry food. Bangladesh exports to the Kingdom amounted to more than $25 million, while its imports from Saudi Arabia were valued at $151 million during the financial year 2004-05.

The envoy hopes to strengthen the existing bilateral ties by expanding the areas of cooperation to various new sectors, particularly in the health care sector. He recalled that the visit of the Saudi Health Minister Dr. Hamad Al-Manie to Bangladesh last year had stimulated Kingdom’s interests to import medicines from Bangladesh. He said that Bangladesh Health Ministry was supplying doctors and nurses to the Kingdom’s health sector. “We are exporting quality pharmaceuticals to 62 countries of the world including Iraq, Yemen and Libya. Saudi Arabia will be a pleasant addition to its list of exporters,” Haque said. There are over 1,000 Bangladeshi doctors and a few nurses employed in the Kingdom’s hospitals and clinics.

Bangladesh exports quality garments, ceramics, leather products and pharmaceuticals to most of the countries in Europe and America. Such quality products will also find an entry to Saudi market,” the envoy added.

As stated by the ambassador, there are over a million Bangladeshi expatriates working in the Kingdom in different sectors. They are contributing to Kingdom’s development programs by way of their hard work, they also share the development efforts of their motherland by sending their remittances in the form of foreign currency.

While talking about military cooperation between the two countries, the ambassador recalled that a strong contingent of Bangladesh military took part in the first Gulf War in 1991 as members of the Allied Forces.

Speaking about the Haj, the ambassador was full of praise for the Saudi authorities, who successfully handle a mammoth congregation of pilgrims who come in millions every year to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. Some 52,000 Bangladeshi pilgrims performed Haj this year, he added .

There are six Bangladeshi community schools in the Kingdom including three international schools in Riyadh, two in Jeddah and one in Dammam with a total strength of 5,000 students. Three of the schools follow the Bangladesh curriculum while the other three follow the British curriculum leading to GCE and IGCSE examinations conducted by the universities of London and Cambridge. The Ministry of Education has already issued licenses to open two more community schools in Riyadh and Buraidah.

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