Bangladesh, in recent years, has been actively pursuing a pro-active and friendly foreign policy approach to boost its global engagement and enhance its direct cooperation with other counterparts that compliments its recent remarkable achievements. To that end, the country took another step ahead at the sidelines of the 78th UNGA summit in New York, when Bangladesh signed 3 instruments on economic, education and health cooperation with Hungary. Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen and Hungarian Foreign and Commerce Minister Peter Szijjarto inked the deals on behalf of their respective countries.
Bangladesh maintains an amicable relationship with the central European country and the two friendly nations celebrated the milestone of the 50th anniversary of bilateral relations in the previous year. Despite the geographical distance, both the countries built a strong friendship and cooperation based on mutual respect in the past five decades and the engagement has only enhanced in recent years. As they are committed to further enhancing the mutually beneficial cooperation in the years to come, the recent agreements provide another stepping stone to further elevate the relations and open the door for intensive engagement on the political, economic, and cultural avenues. This short brief attempt to analyze the bilateral cooperation and evaluate the possible way forward.
Historical Background Bilateral Relations
The bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Hungary are long and are marked by diplomatic cooperation and mutual respect. Hungary supported the causes of Bangladesh during the liberation war and following the latter’s independence in 1971, it was among the first European countries to recognize the newly sovereign nation. The official relationship was established on the 29th January 1972, and in the following year, it established its embassy with a residential-level ambassador. This early recognition set the stage for a friendly and cooperative relationship. Since then, the central European country maintained advanced level political, cultural, and economic ties with Dhaka. The Hungarian mission in Dhaka, however, was ill-fated and only existed until the year 1997, when it withdrew its ambassador and started maintaining a non-residential consular mission. Mainly the demise of the Soviet bloc, as it was a signatory of the “Warsaw Pact” as well as less exchange of high-level political visits caused the distance in the relationship.
In that period, the two countries, however, maintained a vibrant relationship where they signed a number of agreements, all of which are currently inoperative and need to be reactivated. The relations that could be further strengthened in various fields did not materialize. The bilateral engagement in the past decade, however, has increased substantially and the Hungarian foreign minister in his visit to Bangladesh in 2020 announced that his country would re-establish its diplomatic representation in Bangladesh and the Consular Office of Hungary in Dhaka will now act as a full-fledged consular facility, issuing visas and providing other services.
A Glimpse on Recent Engagement
The bilateral engagement of the two countries in the past few years has been vibrant and the two geographically distant and culturally distinct nations have managed to establish a strong bond based on shared values and interests. In 2016 Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited Hungary, the first ever Prime Ministerial level visit to Hungary from Bangladesh, and official engagement between the two countries was reestablished almost after two decades. During the visit, respective Prime Ministers inaugurated the Bangladesh-Hungarian Business and Economic Forum and signed three MoUs on boosting cooperation in water resources management, agriculture and training facilities for diplomats between the two countries. Since then, the relationship has only deepened gradually. Later in 2020, the Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto visited Bangladesh, the very first visit of a foreign minister from the central European country, and two MoUs were inked in the field of diplomatic training and exchange of information and documentation. There were also discussions on establishing a joint trade commission to explore the opportunities for cooperation in the fields of trade and other priority areas. He also promised to be with Bangladesh on the question of peaceful repatriation of the Rohingya people to their motherland, Myanmar. Apart from such rejuvenated government-level engagement, the people-to-people relations as well as trade have also gained a boost. The country is now among the popular European destination choices for higher study for Bangladeshi students and bilateral trade has reached almost $21 million, with Bangladesh having an export surplus; mainly exporting garments and textile products worth $15.6 million in 2022.
The Recent Agreements
To further solidify the rejuvenated relationship the two foreign ministers of the respected countries signed one agreement and two MoU’s on the sideline of the 78th UNGA to enhance cooperation in different fields including economics, health and education. The three instruments are – “Agreement on Economic Cooperation”, and “MoU on Cooperation in the Field of Health for the years 2023-2025” “MoU on Cooperation within the Framework of Stipendium Hungaricum Programme for the years 2024-2026”. Under the MoU the number of scholarships for Bangladesh students was increased by 10 seats and a total of 140 seats are now allocated for Bangladeshi students in Stipendium Hungaricum Programme. Additionally, they discussed the Hungarian Prime Minister’s potential visit to Bangladesh and expressed optimism that three more agreements — the “Avoidance of Double Taxation,” “Agreement on Investment Protection,” and “Agreement on Water Cooperation” — would be inked during the trip.
Bilateral Cooperation and the Way Forward
Bangladesh finds itself at a crucial juncture in its development trajectory, with imminent graduation from LDC, and an ambitious goal of becoming a developed nation within two decades. In doing so, the importance of strengthening bilateral relations with nations beyond our traditional spheres cannot be overstated. As we endeavor to broaden our horizons and diversify economic partnerships, Hungary emerges as a promising prospect and a valuable partner. the deepening cooperation between Bangladesh and Hungary across various sectors holds great promise for our nation’s economic growth and development. As Hungary is also among growing economies in Europe, the partnership can unlock new avenues for prosperity, bringing the two ever closer to reaching collective aspirations.
Hungary’s adoption of the “Eastern Opening” strategy in its foreign policy back in 2010 and now regards Bangladesh an important partner in the east. On the other hand, Bangladesh’s vision is to create a knowledge-based economy, perfectly aligning various sectors that Hungary already has expertise, making collaboration all the more meaningful. In recent years, the two have made significant strides in cooperation in various sectors, particularly in education and training, evident in the increase in quota seats for Bangladesh students in Hungarian governmental scholarship and opportunities for Bangladeshi diplomats to get training in Budapest through MoU. Furthermore, there is a growing possibility to engage in the technological, IT, and service management sectors. Hungary’s expertise in waste management systems and the agricultural sector perfectly match Bangladesh’s needs and the booming pharmaceutical, ship manufacturing, and IT sector present attractive opportunities for Hungarian businesses. Additionally, Bangladesh and Hungary can jointly advocate for the peaceful repatriation of Rohingya refugees, amplifying our voice in the global stage to address the pressing humanitarian crisis. However, most importantly, as both the nations are set to embark on nuclear energy projects with technology sourced from Russia, it offers a significant avenue for future cooperation.
The burgeoning partnership between Bangladesh and Hungary holds immense potential for mutual growth and prosperity. By leveraging each other’s strengths and fostering cooperation across various sectors, we can propel our nations toward a brighter future while also contributing positively to regional and global challenges. Together, we can achieve our goals and serve as a powerful advocate for the peaceful solutions of global problems also.
– Wahid Uzzaman Sifat is a Research Intern at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).