Saturday, 30 May 2020

Chittagong, Bangladesh: Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh Mijarul Quayes is going to visit Burma to meet his counterpart on August 24 for two days to discuss bilateral and regional issues, according to official source.

“The last meeting at the foreign secretary level took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on December 28, 2009.”

“It is reported that the following issues are to be discussed in the meeting, that are --- multi-modal transport connectivity,  border security to prevent criminal activities and illegal immigration, facilitation of trade, repatriation of remaining Rohingya refugees, and cooperation in other areas including energy and agriculture.”

Bangladesh shares 271 km of border with Burma, both land and water. The two countries share the Naaf River as a boundary and is adjacent to two states; Rakhaine (Arakan) and Chin of Burma.

“There are about 10 Agreements between the two countries, including those on areas of land boundary management, trade, transport, and prevention of narcotics smuggling. However, there is no direct road connectivity, no air link and no shipping connection between the two countries,” said Barrister Harun -ur- Rashid.

After the present Awami League (AL) government came to power, there has been an attempt to inject momentum and dynamism into bilateral relations. On May 16, 2009, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. Dipu Moni visited Burma and held official talks with her counterpart U Nyan Win. 

They reportedly discussed a host of issues, including repatriation of the remaining Rohingya refugees, relaxation of visa requirements for citizens of either country, facilitation of banking services, increased border trade, export of surplus power to Bangladesh, road link between the two countries up to China, direct air link, and sharing bandwidth with fiber-optic cable.

Besides, in January 2011, the Bangladesh foreign minister attended the 13th ministerial level meeting of BIMSTEC in Burma, and on the sidelines she discussed bilateral issues with her counterpart. She held discussions with a private company in Burma to purchase hydropower from adjoining Rakhaine (Arakan) state, said an official source.

The amount of bilateral trade is meager. It is reported that in 2008-09 Bangladesh's exports stood at $9.17 million and imports from Myanmar at $66.65 million. To increase trade, the joint trade commission of Bangladesh and Myanmar held its fifth meeting on July 21-22. It was agreed that the two countries would raise bilateral trade to $550 million from $160 million now.

Officials also discussed the potential for setting up wholesale border markets at Bangladesh's Teknaf and Maungdaw (Burma), a border town.

They also discussed how to complete border transactions through the Asian Clearing Union payment system as Bangladeshi importers now settle their payments for bulk shipments through bank drafts issued by foreign banks to a third country.

One of the bilateral issues that often cause tension is related to the issue of Rohingya refugees. The migration of Rohingya people to Bangladesh is a complex matter. It should not be seen merely as a refugee problem with humanitarian dimension partly because Rohingya has been reportedly fighting for decades for their rights, according to Barrister Harun.  
Given the background, both countries need to identify the root cause of the issue and jointly develop effective border management to prevent the flow of Rohingyas to Bangladesh.

“The political environment in Burma is different from that of the past. Burma had elections in November and a civilian government (dominated by former military officials), has been in power since March 30. Given the political atmosphere, Bangladesh may now seize the opportunity to expand its relations, both in depth and in dimension, with the government of Burma,” said a politician from Chittagong. 

“The geographical proximity makes both countries natural partners, and they should see cooperative efforts and interconnectivity as catalysts for economic growth and prosperity for the people of Bangladesh and Myanmar,” said a former Bangladesh ambassador to the UN.