Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday (March 26) began his first visit abroad since the COVID pandemic, making a trip to Bangladesh amid hopes for wide-ranging pacts for strengthening cooperation in several areas between the two countries.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina received her Indian counterpart at the tarmac of the VVIP terminal of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in the capital and rolled out the red carpet to welcome him on his two-day official visit.
Modi was given the guard of honour by the contingent comprising personnel from the Bangladesh Army, Navy and Air Force at the airport. The Indian PM will hold talks with Sheikh Hasina and will also participate in the 50th anniversary celebrations of the nation, and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s 100th birth anniversary. Modi is also expected to call on President Abdul Hamid.
“I am happy that my first foreign visit after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic will be to our friendly neighbouring country, with which India shares deep cultural, linguistic and people-to-people ties,” PM Modi said in his departure statement.
Modi’s visit will mark three major events — Mujib Borsho, the birth centenary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman; 50 years of the establishment of diplomatic ties between India and Bangladesh; and 50 years of Bangladesh’s war of liberation. This will be Modi’s first visit to Bangladesh since 2015.
His visit comes days after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman — the architect of the 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence — was conferred the Gandhi Peace Award 2020.
During a press briefing, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said on Wednesday (March 24): “Bangladesh is at the intersection of our Neighborhood First and Act East policies. Today it is our largest development partner, our largest trade partner in the region and is the location of our largest visa operation in the world.”
Bangladesh and India share more than 4,000-km common border.
Muhammad Imran, Bangladesh High Commissioner to India, has told the media that the two countries could soon begin talks to have a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) covering trade in goods and services.
Bangladesh is gradually moving to a status of ‘developing country’ and will need more and more free trade agreements to enjoy tariff-free access in India. Currently Bangladesh enjoys duty-free access for its products entering India under the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA).
Bilateral trade in goods between the two countries fell 7.82 per cent to $9.45 billion in the 2019-2020 financial year compared to the $10.25 billion in 2018-19 fiscal, according to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
In January, Bangladesh was among the first countries to have received the first consignment of the 5 million doses of Covishield vaccines from India under a procurement agreement, four days after New Delhi gifted two million doses of the vaccine to Dhaka. Bangladesh has so far purchased 30 million doses from the Serum Institute of India through private Beximco pharmaceuticals under a tripartite agreement.