Strengthening Bangladesh-Belarus Bilateral Relations: A New Horizon of Diplomatic Cooperation

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In a significant development aimed at fortifying diplomatic relations and fostering economic cooperation, Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus, H.E. Mr. Evgeny Shestakov, paid a courtesy visit to Hon’ble Foreign Minister Dr. Hasan Mahmud, MP, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The meeting, held on 11 March 2024, served as a testament to the enduring bond between Bangladesh and Belarus, dating back to Bangladesh’s War of Liberation in 1971. Dr. Mahmud expressed heartfelt gratitude to the Belarusian people for their unwavering support during Bangladesh’s struggle for independence, underscoring the historical significance of their solidarity.

In 2021, Belarus recorded exports worth $23.7 million to Bangladesh. Over the past 25 years, Belarusian exports to Bangladesh have witnessed a significant annual growth rate of 30.4%, rising from $31.1 thousand in 1996 to $23.7 million in 2021. Similarly, Bangladesh exported goods valued at $23.6 million to Belarus in 2021. Over the past 24 years, Bangladeshi exports to Belarus have shown a steady annual growth rate of 25%, climbing from $89.1 thousand in 1997 to $23.6 million in 2021.

However, during the discussions, Dr. Mahmud advocated for Belarus’s support for Bangladesh to obtain observer status within the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and for the signing of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC). Highlighting the immense potential for economic collaboration, Dr. Mahmud urged Belarusian entrepreneurs to explore investment opportunities in Bangladesh’s burgeoning Economic Zones, Special Economic Zones, and High-tech Parks. This call for enhanced economic engagement reflects Bangladesh’s commitment to fostering mutually beneficial partnerships and leveraging its strategic location and growing economy.

In a reciprocal gesture of goodwill, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus extended an invitation to Dr. Mahmud to visit Belarus, signaling a desire to deepen bilateral ties and explore avenues for cooperation across various sectors. Both sides expressed satisfaction with the current state of bilateral relations and expressed optimism for further strengthening and deepening cooperation in the days ahead.

The meeting also provided a platform for a comprehensive review of all aspects of bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Belarus. Discussions encompassed areas such as trade and investment, agricultural cooperation, educational exchanges, military collaboration, as well as cooperation in science, technology, and legal matters. This multifaceted approach underscores the depth and breadth of the relationship between the two countries and highlights the potential for further expansion and diversification of cooperation in the future.

Of particular significance was Dr. Mahmud’s appeal for Belarus’s support on initiatives put forth by the United Nations and other multilateral bodies for the repatriation of the Rohingyas to their homeland. This underscores Bangladesh’s commitment to addressing humanitarian challenges and seeking international cooperation to resolve complex issues affecting the region.

In conjunction with the bilateral meeting, on 10 March 2024 the 5th round of Foreign Office Consultations (FOC) between Bangladesh and Belarus was held, further cementing the diplomatic ties between the two nations. Led by Ambassador Masud Bin Momen and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Evgeny Shestakov, both delegations expressed mutual appreciation for past support and reaffirmed their commitment to advancing bilateral cooperation across various sectors.

During the consultations, the Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh sought Belarus’s support for signing the pending Free Trade Agreement with the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) and encouraged Belarusian businessmen to explore investment opportunities in Bangladesh’s economic zones. The Belarusian delegation, in turn, expressed interest in importing manpower from Bangladesh and expanding educational opportunities for Bangladeshi students in Belarus, reflecting a shared commitment to fostering people-to-people exchanges and enhancing cultural ties between the two nations.

Furthermore, Belarus has expressed keen interest in collaborating with Bangladesh in sectors such as food processing, agricultural machinery, and human resource development. Evgeny Shestakov, the deputy foreign minister of Belarus, conveyed this interest during a meeting with Md Amin Helali, the senior vice-president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, on the afternoon of Sunday, March 11, 2024. Discussions also encompassed investment, technology exchange, and cooperation across various domains. Helali highlighted the potential for joint initiatives in agriculture and food processing, noting Bangladesh’s land scarcity relative to Belarus’s surplus land resources. He extended invitations for Belarusian investment in agro-processing, medicine, ceramics, paper pulp production, tourism, and youth skill development. The FBCCI urged Belarus to import labor and agricultural products from Bangladesh and sought assistance in streamlining Belarusian visa procedures for Bangladeshi business personnel. Shestakov stressed the importance of enhancing commercial ties and coordination between Bangladeshi and Belarusian entrepreneurs. Specifically, he expressed interest in importing fruits and jute from Bangladesh and pledged support for youth skill enhancement, particularly in the medical field. The meeting was attended by FBCCI directors, business leaders, and government officials, among others.

Looking ahead, both countries emphasized the importance of expediting the necessary procedures for signing pending bilateral agreements and underscored their commitment to deepening cooperation in all areas of mutual interest. This reaffirmation of commitment sets the stage for a new chapter in the Bangladesh-Belarus relationship, characterized by strengthened diplomatic ties, expanded economic cooperation, and enhanced people-to-people exchanges. As Bangladesh continues to position itself as a hub for trade and investment in the region, Belarus emerges as a key partner in realizing Bangladesh’s vision for sustainable development and inclusive growth.

– Syed Raiyan Amir is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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