Bangladesh and Qatar’s bilateral relationship has reached a new height due to the recent meeting between Bangladesh’s Premier Sheikh Hasina and his Qatari counterpart Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
The meeting took place at the Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC) in Doha on the margins of the United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDC5). Bangladesh and Qatar share excellent bilateral ties built on mutual respect, similar values, common religious footing, and shared culture and heritage. The cooperation exists in a gamut of domains, including politics, economics, defense, personnel, and commerce.
Amid the meeting, many pertinent issues of mutual interest were discussed including recruitment of manpower, increasing the current ‘quota of supply’ of LNG to Bangladesh, Bangladesh’s willingness to contribute to Qatar’s food security through the direct supply of food grains and agro-products, enhancing bilateral trade, and Qatari investment in SEZs and Hi-tech.
Russia and Ukraine war has demonstrated the significance of South-South cooperation owing to the soaring food and energy prices. Against such a backdrop, Bangladesh and Qatar’s emerging cooperation can create a win-win situation for both countries in terms of enhancing trade, energy, and people-to-people ties.
Why this meeting is Significant?
Qatar currently has Vision 2030, which allows Bangladesh to explore new areas of cooperation with Qatar. Similarly, Bangladesh’s Vision 2021 (emergence as a Middle-Income Country) and Vision 2041 (emergence as a developed country) offer Qatar the to view Bangladesh as a fast-growing economic opportunity in which to invest in advantageous terms. Besides, Bangladesh’s location within global supply networks and some of the important global value chains, as well as its ability to meet incremental demand for quality infrastructure, warrant attention. Hence, regular bilateral visits will certainly elevate manpower export, meaningful discussions, and a unified viewpoint on regional and international problems, as well as strong collaboration in the international arena to promote peace, stability, and development, which will witness noticeable growth.
Besides, Bangladesh, according to the prime minister, is establishing 100 economic zones in which other nations are investing. Qatar may also make investments in these economic zones. Currently, Qatari investors and businesses are aware of Bangladesh’s commercial and investment opportunities outside of the conventional domain of manpower export. According to Bangladesh Bank statistics, the volume of exports from Bangladesh to Qatar has grown to US$ 38.95 million in 2017-2018 from US$ 26.40 million in the previous year. Hence, this visit will add a cherry on top in engaging the two nations in different kinds and modalities.
Renewed Focus on the Energy Cooperation
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina demanded more energy, notably Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from Qatar, to fulfill rising energy demand in the midst of the Ukrainian conflict. However, Bangladesh is now importing 40 containers of energy, which equates to 1.8-2.5 MTA. In answer, the Emir of Qatar inquired as to how much Bangladesh desired. Later, he was informed that Bangladesh wanted another MTA, which would imply 16-17 containers. In repose to, PM Hasina’s request, he stated that his energy minister would meet with Bangladesh’s Prime Minister to resolve the matter before she departs Qatar.
Bangladesh imports 1.8-2.5 million tons of LNG per annum (MTPA) from Qatar under a 15-year LNG SPA Agreement. According to the present LNG sale and purchase agreement (SPA) with Qatar, Bangladesh is eager to boost LNG imports to address the rising energy crisis caused by the Ukrainian war. Therefore, Bangladesh is willing to purchase an extra one million tons per year (MTPA) from Qatar which can be achieved through this visit. Urea fertilizer is mostly imported into Bangladesh from Qatar. Under a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in October 2009, Bangladesh buys 8 lakh metric tons of urea fertilizer from Qatar Fertilizer Company Ltd (QAFCO) per year. During the visit, both nations also focused on increasing the export of fertilizers.
Extended Cooperation in Labor Market
There are currently 4,00,000 Bangladeshis working there, making them the country’s second-largest foreign community. At the meeting, Qatar’s Amir stated that he had a constructive discussion on the topic of manpower on welfare and foreign employment issues. Sheikh Hasina asked the Qatar Ruler to look after the Bangladeshi employees in Qatar because some of them are losing their employment here.
In 2018, Qatar surpassed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Malaysia as the third most popular destination for Bangladeshi workers. In 2018, roughly 76,500 Bangladeshi workers landed in Qatar, accounting for 10.43% of Bangladesh’s total abroad employment. In 2018, around 3,000 female employees were given job chances in Qatar.
Most crucially, during the previous three years, Qatar has hired roughly 2,80,000 semi-skilled and less-trained employees from Bangladesh, primarily for building projects targeted at developing infrastructure for the World Cup Football 2022 and realizing their National Vision 2030. Qatari remittances to Bangladesh have progressively increased over the years. In 2018, Bangladeshi expatriates in Qatar sent 983.91 million US dollars (roughly one billion US dollars) to their family members, compared to 643.89 million US dollars in 2017. In fact, they sent 53% more remittances in 2018 than in 2017. Remittances from Qatar have more than doubled in the previous five years. This has a significant beneficial impact on alleviating labor market pressures in Bangladesh and repairing the country’s balance of payments.
Urging Support for the Rohingyas
Regarding the Rohingya crisis, the premier stated that the country is now burdened by 1.1 million Myanmar nationals who have sought refuge in Bangladesh. She stated that her government relocated over 30,000 Rohingyas to Bhashanchar Island for a better life and that the OIC is assisting Bangladesh in this regard. Qatar Charity (QC) has provided food, gas cylinders, and stoves to Rohingya refugees in Bhasan Char. QC has previously delivered humanitarian material to 4,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar who had been displaced by the fire. Qatar can be proactive to engage the OIC countries to raise more funds and impose pressure on the international community to advocate for the repatriation of the Rohingyas.
It is time to investigate new venues or ways to broaden the variety of private actors in the two nations, such as going beyond traditional economic forums and identifying opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation. Bangladesh is willing to expand its partnership with the people and government of Qatar beyond the current framework, and this visit reflects the willingness of Bangladesh.
– Saume Saptaparna Nath is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA). Previously, she worked as an Intern at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh.