President’s Bangladesh Visit: Finding a Reliable Partner in South Asia
President Bhandari visited Bangladesh recently. The visit has demonstrated opportunities aplenty on enriching bilateral ties on economic, social and cultural fronts of both friendly states. Nepal needs reliable ties with Bangladesh for coupling the Nepali economy to global trade. Since Bangladesh lies in the strategic point linking two regions of Asia—South Asia and Southeast Asia, the geo-strategic locus of this offers an extraordinary context in order to gain multiple advantages for Nepal.
According to one of the recent reports of the World Bank, Bangladesh claims to be the 39th largest economy of the world in terms of market exchange rates and 29th largest in terms of purchasing power parity, second only to India in South Asia. Not only this, but it’s also one of the world's fastest-growing economies and one of the fastest-growing middle-income countries. It’s a market-based mixed economy. As a developing nation, it’s one of the Next Eleven emerging markets. The IMF report displays that its per-capita income was US$1,906 in 2019, with a GDP of $317 billion.
Similarly, Bangladesh has the second-highest foreign-exchange reserves in South Asia after India. The Bangladeshi diaspora contributed $15.31 billion in remittances in 2015 which shows the inspiring trend on its economy. Another motivating fact is that Bangladesh's largest trading partners are the European Union, the United States, Japan, India, Australia, China and ASEAN which Nepal can hook itself to them through its ties with Bangladesh. Expat workers in the Middle East and Southeast Asia send back a large chunk of remittances. The economy is driven by strong domestic demand.
Hence, Nepal needs friendly states like Bangladesh that not only has the access to the High Sea, but the greater connectivity to the stronger economies of the world. The massive cross-border drive of goods and services, investment flows, and enriched human contacts, and connectivity initiatives have elevated itself at the higher strategic significance in the two neighboring regions. Nepal’s worse off situation has largely resulted from its India-locked situation. That circumstance has slightly been altered as it built up ties with its northern neighbor, China. However, the inhospitable geography of the Himalayan region has placed a crucial challenge in constructing proper Trans-Himalayan connectivity for linking to the regional economic pattern of North-East Asia.
So, Nepal has to learn some of the key approaches Bangladesh has adopted in its journey to economic betterment. Nepal requires focusing on innovating reliable bilateral tools for mobilizing the necessary funds for building physical infrastructure. Its failure in identifying and prioritizing the concerns has whipped it badly. Nepal’s poor coordination in cross-border connectivity has backlashed its socio-economic advancement. It has also witnessed a strong need to build human resources that can handle mega projects or the so-called 'projects of national glory' without any external expertise. Nepal significantly lacks the supply-side capacities that can be advantageous for it through connectivity-driven regional market opportunities linking its least developed economic organs to the global trade so that robust results can be achieved in a short span of time.
Nepal and Bangladesh have had cordial relations since ancient times. They not only have strong ties on trade, transit, investment and tourism but also enjoy the centuries-long socio-cultural relations that have remained vibrant till today.
Gradually, the mutual relations between Nepal and Bangladesh are deepening in recent times. Nepal recognized Bangladesh as an independent sovereign state on January 16, 1972. Both the nations have embassies in each other’s land. In 1978, the Nepal-Bangladesh Joint Economic Commission was established. At the people’s level, Bangladesh is known in Nepal as a country of peace-loving people and a unique example of ethnic harmony. It’s also popular for Nepali students for higher education. Politically speaking, both Nepali and Bangladeshi people are true brethren who uphold parliamentary democracy in governance despite various challenges against it.
Out of all technical hitches in bilateral bonds, the two countries will have to take continuous initiatives at the political and administrative levels in the coming days for the implementation of high-level meetings, agreements and understandings on tourism, sanitation, cultural exchange and railway routes signed during this visit. The initiatives to be taken in the coming days will decide how far these multi-dimensional bilateral relations garner successful outcomes. Both countries will now have to focus on the implementation of the comprehensive understanding. Things will surely be favorable for Nepal if both parties will be able to take special initiatives to make Nepal a destination for tourists and create an environment of investment in Nepal from Bangladesh. The agreement on cultural exchange 2022-2025 will help open new doors for tourism development between the two countries. Agreements on pesticide, sanitary and phytosanitary to be used in agriculture and livestock will benefit the concerned sectors of Nepal. Similarly, access to Nepal on the Rohanpur-Sinhabad railway route will increase Nepal's connectivity to the outer world.
Overall, Bangladesh can invest not only in the purchase of Nepal's electricity but also in hydropower projects in Nepal, while Nepal can build infrastructure to facilitate the use of Bangladesh's natural gas. If the political figures in both countries stand with their commitments made on such occasions, mutual relations between both friendly states can be strengthened from the aforementioned foundations since Nepal and Bangladesh are rich in human resources, history, civilization and culture.
Ph.D. scholar of International Relations and Diplomacy, Tribhuvan University, Nepal