The visit of a country’s top leader is considered to be an important event in bilateral relations. This gives a boost to enhancing mutual trust. It is thus hoped that the three-day Dhaka visit of Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena will add a new dimension to diplomatic ties between the two countries, particularly at a time when a sort of tension prevails among South Asian nations.
Only a single agreement was signed during the president Sirisena’s visit, to the effect that diplomats and government officials can travel to each other’s countries without visa. While the need for such agreements is undeniable in bilateral relations, the greater populace will not benefit from this at all. This agreement could have been among all member nations of SAARC. Unfortunately, SAARC is virtually just a dead horse at present.
However, 13 MOUs were signed during the Sri Lankan president’s visit and these included cooperation in the sectors of agriculture, higher education, coastal vessel movement, ICT, central banks, foreign service institutes, radio, film and TV, BSTI (Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution) and Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), news agencies, etc. It is expected that such cooperation from a country of relatively more developed economy and skilled human resources will make significant contribution to our socio-economic development. But this will require specific proposals and planning to see what facilities we can gain for these sectors, and outside of these sectors too, from Sri Lanka.
During the Sri Lankan president’s visit, the two countries reached a consensus on a free trade agreement to be signed sometime this year. This will be Bangladesh’s first agreement with any country in this regard. Our business leaders have urged for such an agreement to be signed soon. To benefit from the proposed agreement, we need to focus on the production and export of items for which Sri Lanka had a great demand. Only a few years ago the trade balance was in favour of Bangladesh. Now it tilts towards Sri Lanka. So we must prepare from now if we are to take advantage of the free trade agreement. The government and the business must work together in this regard. Efforts must also be made to increase Sri Lankan investment in Bangladesh.