Hasina-Thani Summit in Qatar 2023: New Developments in Bilateral Relations

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Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina departed Dhaka on May 22nd, 2023, for Doha on a three-day official visit to attend the Qatar Economic Forum 2023 at the invitation of Qatar’s Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The prime minister attended “the 3rd Qatar Economic Forum: A New Global Growth Story” on May 23-25, 2023. Amid the forum, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, at the Emiri Diwan in Doha on May 24. During the meeting, they assessed bilateral ties between the two nations and discussed methods to strengthen and grow them, as well as a number of subjects of mutual interest. A plethora of various topics, including bilateral cooperation on energy, commerce, investment, and Bangladeshi workforce, as well as Muslim Ummah and Bangladesh’s growth, were heavily discussed. The bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and Qatar has achieved new heights as a result of the recent meeting between Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and his Qatari counterpart Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. This is the second bilateral meeting between PM Sheikh Hasina and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim. Prior to it, they had a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Fifth Conference of the Least Developed Countries (LDC5).

Bangladesh is always ahead of others due to its advantageous investment climate, particularly as a demographic dividend economy. Add to that Bangladesh’s political stability and effective leadership. Bangladesh has successfully buried its basket case title and is regarded as a South Asian miracle owing to its socio-economic development trajectory. Besides, it has appeared as a vanguard of the global south in a gamut of multilateral issues like climate change, UN peacekeeping, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and Women empowerment, etc.  Now, the Arab world as a whole, including Qatar, views Bangladesh from a different lens, and Qatar’s Emir’s interest in enhancing bilateral cooperation reflects it.

Hasina-Thani Meeting: A Blueprint for Cooperation

During the meeting, the Emir of Qatar praised Sheikh Hasina’s leadership, saying that they previously thought Bangladesh was a disaster-prone and poor nation. He commended Prime Minister Hasina for delivering stability to the country and lauded Bangladesh as a great ally However, when Sheikh Hasina came to office, she eliminated Bangladesh’s food shortfall. In this regard, the Prime Minister stated that in the previous fourteen and a half years, her administration has reduced the poverty rate to 18.5 per cent from 41 per cent and the extreme poverty rate to 5.6 per cent from 25 per cent. “I have lifted Bangladesh out of poverty.” “Poverty is a curse,” she was reported as saying. Sheikh Hasina stated that her sole ambition is to see Bangladesh become a developed country, as her father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, envisioned. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina offered Qatar land in special economic zones being established around Bangladesh, while also demanding additional assistance from the gulf country in the energy sector, notably Liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports. The Emir of Qatar told Bangladesh that his country will provide the necessary infrastructure for a bigger supply of LNG. Sheikh Hasina has asked Qatar’s Emir to visit Bangladesh this year, if feasible. In response, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani stated that he will surely visit Bangladesh this year. Concerning the Muslim Ummah, the PM stated that in certain situations, Muslim nations engage in minor disagreements, which is an obstacle to Muslim Ummah unity. She asked Qatar’s Emir to struggle for Muslim Ummah unity and the development of the world Muslim community. Qatar Prime Minister Thani informed Bangladesh of Qatar’s resolve to further enhance friendly relations, emphasizing the two countries’ status as loyal allies. PM Hasina thanked Qatar for its aid in bringing stability to Bangladesh and asked for their continuing support.

To summarize, the Qatar Economic Forum provided a platform for Bangladesh and Qatar to expand bilateral relations, boost energy collaboration, and explore economic growth opportunities. Prime Minister Hasina expressed hope about Bangladesh’s energy security and economic stability, with both countries dedicated to promoting a successful future.

How can this Visit be Mutually Beneficial?

This visit is undeniably significant and multifaceted. Bangladesh and Qatar have continuous bilateral collaboration on a variety of subjects, including labour migration (8 million Bangladeshi workers and USD 1.3 billion in remittances), energy cooperation (15-year G-2-G LNG deal), and ongoing support for the Rohingya.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina emphasized her desire for stronger energy cooperation between the two countries during a bilateral meeting at the Qatar Economic Forum in Doha, QatarPrime Minister Hasina also addressed the signing of a new deal for the delivery of LNG to Bangladesh with Qatar’s Minister of State for Energy Affairs, Saad bin Sherida Al Kaabi. While the present 15-year deal inked in 2017 is still in place until 2032, a new contract is required to accommodate Bangladesh’s growing energy needs beyond 2025. Prime Minister Hasina encouraged the deal to be signed as soon as possible, emphasizing the need to settle pricing difficulties. In the midst of Bangladesh’s efforts to diversify its energy sources and handle economic issues, Prime Minister Hasina stated that the government would explore acquiring oil from Russia if a good price was given. However, Bangladesh is experiencing an energy crisis as a result of the Ukraine conflict, Western sanctions against Russia, and the resultant spike in gasoline costs. Bangladesh is now struggling to fulfil rising natural gas demand due to decreased natural gas output from domestic gas reserves and high LNG pricing on the international market. This comprehensive search for new suppliers seeks to improve energy security and optimize import arrangements. As Bangladesh faces an energy crisis, Qatar will assist the country in meeting its expanding energy demands.

On the one hand, because it is crucial for Bangladesh’s economic diplomacy, Bangladesh instantly introduced a new dimension to the relationship with Qatar. Concerning the worry of job loss among Bangladeshi workers in Qatar, PM Sheikh Hasina pledged Qatar’s Emir to take this matter into consideration. Prime Minister Al-Thani emphasized the importance of Bangladeshi labour, describing 370,000 Bangladeshi ex-pats as a blessing to Qatar. He vowed Qatar’s efforts to keep as many workers in the nation as feasible. Qatar will take on new projects, and the Bangladeshis will remain since they are hardworking and dedicated to their jobs. “We’re very happy with the Bangladeshis,” he was reported as saying. Foreign nationals make up 89.5 per cent of Qatar’s population. To maintain its economy, the country is heavily reliant on immigrant labour. The oil-rich nation is undoubtedly an important country for expatriates and migrant workers in Bangladesh. Bangladesh, on the other hand, is one of the world’s major labor exporters. There are over 4 lakh (400,000) Bangladeshi expats working there, accounting for 12.5 per cent of Qatar’s total population. It is worth mentioning that Qatari remittances have surpassed $1 billion in the previous five years.

Bangladesh has made some territories available for investment to nations such as Japan, China, South Korea, and India. Similarly, the potential of Qatar to open up such an area has surfaced “Bangladesh plans to establish 100 special economic zones. Qatar can take land in the zones for its investors and entrepreneurs to make larger-scale investments,” she added. Bangladesh has succeeded to create an investment-friendly climate by combining these characteristics ahead of its graduation from LDC 2026.

Prime Minister Al Thani underlined Qatar’s sincere desire in building cordial relations with Bangladesh during their meeting at the Raffles Tower in Doha. This collaboration is especially important in light of the ongoing Ukraine crisis and how many nations are attempting to recover from its devastation in the post-Covid-19 world. Not only is financial cooperation important here, but so is ensuring greater participation of developing countries in the international market, transfer of technology to increase these countries’ capacity, and more effective evaluation of the work of these countries’ human resources working in the developed world, among other things. In this context, Bangladesh and Qatar’s burgeoning collaboration has the potential to benefit both nations through improving economic, energy, and people-to-people connections.

– Saume Saptaparna Nath is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in Middle East Political and Economic Institute [Link]