Reopening of Argentine Embassy in Bangladesh: A New Milestone in Bilateral Relations

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“That’s why we humbly came here to repay the love that our country received. It’s a beginning to bring together two culturally different peoples, geographically distant, but with shared feelings”.

– Santiago Cafiero

Argentine Foreign Minister

The remarks highlight not just inauguration of another diplomatic mission in Dhaka, rather signifies a greater people to people engagement in diplomatic affairs. It is an epitome of how popular choice and affinity of people from one country towards others can direct governments to take initiatives to consolidate ties and establish an official diplomatic channel of engagement.

On 27th of February this year Argentina officially reopened its embassy in Dhaka, after a long 45 years pause, and this time it was the football frenzy of Bangladeshi people that paved the way for the direct formal relations.  Argentina and Bangladesh have maintained diplomatic ties for a long time and the two countries share a commitment to strengthening regional and global cooperation. The embassy’s inauguration marks an exciting new beginning in bilateral relations ushered by the unity of football. The Argentine football team has always had enthusiastic support from Bangladesh. However, during the recently concluded FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the support of the Bangladeshi people for the Argentina team captured the attention of the entire world.  After Lionel Messi’s men triumphed in the FIFA world cup and the Bangladeshi football fans frenzy for the Albiceleste’s went viral in the country, the Argentine government decided to establish its official embassy in Dhaka to capitalize the trade and commerce potential, along with the unconditional love of the people for the country.

A sShort Glimpse of Bilateral Relations

Apart from this football frenzy perspective, the countries share a long history of bilateral relations and there is strong diplomatic, commercial and cultural exchange between them. Even before Bangladesh came into existence there was a bond between Bengal and Argentina–with the relationship between the great poet Rabindranath Tagore and Argentine author Victoria Ocampo. From the very beginning, Argentina has been Bangladesh’s dependable ally. Victoria Ocampo, Jorge Luis Bergs, Reverend Father Ismael Quiles, and other notable authors, scholars, lawyers, and intellectuals inspired and urged Argentina’s leaders and people to denounce Pakistan’s barbaric actions and seek aid for war refugees during the turbulent months of Bangladesh’s independence war. It was one of the first Latin American countries to recognize Bangladesh as an independent state. Bangladesh and Argentina established formal diplomatic ties when it recognized the former in 1972. Both nations commemorated the golden jubilee of their bilateral relations in 2022.

In October 1973, Juan Domingo Perón, the country’s president at the time, approved diplomatic representation to Bangladesh, and Argentina’s embassy in Dhaka was established. However, the Argentine embassy in Dhaka was shut down in 1978 by the military junta that was in power in Argentina at the time, bringing an abrupt end to the golden era of relations. Since then, Bangladeshis had to travel to New Delhi, India to get Argentine visas and other documents as the Argentine Embassy in India also handled the Bangladeshi affairs. On the other hand, the Bangladesh embassy in Brazil is responsible for maintaining relations with Argentina. Both the countries have maintained economic, trade and diplomatic relations in the process, until recently Argentina opened a fully operational embassy in Dhaka.

From World Cup to Embassy Opening: A Glimpse of the Journey

Support for the albicelestes during the FIFA World Cup may best capture Bangladeshis’ passion for Argentina. Football is one of the key ways that Bangladeshis are introduced to Argentina. Argentinian flags are flown proudly around the nation, while hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis cheered for the team on giant screens placed all over their country. People’s passion reached such a level of excitement that in some places they even got involved in fights. There are even incidences of heart attacks leading to death while watching the game because the spectators were unable to handle their beloved team losing. In Bangladesh, such news in the media is nothing new. But this time, during the World Cup in Qatar, Bangladeshi football supporters’ enthusiasm for Argentina also gained international attention and spilled into the streets of the South American nation, bringing closer not only the football enthusiasts from both nations but also their governments together.

Bangladeshis have always been a die-hard Argentina supporter, but thanks to social media, this time the world also got to learn about their craze for the team. It all began when the official FIFA Twitter account posted a video of ecstatic Bangladeshi supporters cheering Messi’s goal against Mexico. The story of Bangladesh’s support for Argentina quickly went viral and started trending online. The story was covered by the Argentine media as well. Then, the Argentina national football team tweeted about Bangladesh with the following message: “Thank you for supporting our team!! They are crazy like us!” Along with the media and journalists, Argentine people also expressed their gratitude for Bangladesh via social media. An Argentine social media fan group was created for the Bangladesh national cricket team in response to Bangladesh’s unrelenting support for the Argentine football team. Since then, there has been a strong relationship between the people and an exchange of their mutual love of cricket and football.

Following Argentina’s victory in the football World Cup in December of last year, prime minister Sheikh Hasina wrote President Alberto Fernandez a letter of congratulations. Argentine President Alberto also wrote back thanking Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In the letter, Alberto expressed his conviction that the establishment of the Argentine embassy in Dhaka will strengthen the bonds of harmony and fraternity between the peoples of the two nations. Eventually, Argentina reopened its embassy in Dhaka last month, 45 years after it had closed, indicating the mutual interest of strengthening collaboration between both peoples, which would allow fostering new flows of business and cultural interchange within the framework of a deepening of the ties between both countries. It is one of the rarest moments in history and there is doubt whether there are any other instances where any embassy got reopened through the craze over football.

A New Hope on the Horizon: What Does it Mean?

The reopening of the embassy is realistic and in accordance with foreign policy objectives on “political, strategic, and commercial” grounds, claims the Argentine foreign ministry. The Latin American nation wants to capitalize the passionate support of the Bangladeshis and deepen its diplomatic, economic and cultural ties. The opening of the embassy is a stepping stone in improving bilateral relations. The decision to open the embassy in Dhaka also shows the rising recognition of Bangladesh’s strategic significance as a developing economic and political force in the region. With a market of more than 170 million people, the country serves as a significant hub for commerce and investment at the intersection of South Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.

The two nations have already achieved notable strides in recent years in sectors like trade and investment. Bangladesh is one of the top exporters of textiles in the world, while Argentina is a major producer of wheat, soybeans, and corn. This offers both nations a significant opportunity to deepen their economic ties. Bangladesh mostly imports soybean oil, other vegetable and animal fats, oil seeds, fruits, cereals, dairy products, bird eggs, and natural honey from Argentina. It mainly exports textiles. Argentina could be a great destination because Bangladesh is already a major producer of sportswear and a supplier for global brands like Nike, Adidas, and Puma. It can also export pharmaceutical items, jute and leather goods and collaborate in the tourism sector. The two countries’ bilateral trade was worth US$ 765 million in 2022. Bangladesh’s imports reached US$ 742.9 million, while its exports came to US$ 22.1 million, resulting in a trade surplus of US$ 720.8 million in Argentina’s favor.

It is anticipated that the opening of an embassy in Dhaka will promote more economic and investment cooperation between the two nations. In addition, Bangladesh made considerable improvements to its infrastructure and is creating 100 specialized economic zones to draw in foreign investment, something Argentina may consider. Additionally, with Argentina on its side Bangladesh can strongly be vocal about its inclusion in the MERCOSUR, the largest free market and economic and political bloc in South America. Perhaps the most significant outcome of the reinforced relationship would be football cooperation for Bangladesh, where Argentina will provide training and technical support to Bangladeshi coaches and young footballers to develop the quality of football in Bangladesh. During Cafiero’s visit, a memorandum of understanding between the foreign service academies in the field of diplomatic training, an agreement to facilitate football training and cooperation, and a visa exemption agreement for diplomatic and official passport holders were signed signaling a robust engagement in the future.

Concluding Remarks

This is a unique example of how people can inspire to deepen diplomatic, economic and political relationships between two countries. The establishment of an Argentine embassy in Bangladesh is an important development in the relationship. There will be great opportunity for increased trade, investment, and cultural exchange as economic and political relations continue to grow. With the reopening of embassy and new bilateral agreements, both countries are expected to have greater advantages than ever.

– Wahid Uzzaman Sifat is a Research Intern at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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