Bangladesh, India set example in Covid-time diplomacy

Bangladesh and India on Tuesday reviewed the entire gamut of bilateral relations at the foreign ministers level meeting held virtually in an example of Covid-19-time diplomacy.

Both sides expressed satisfaction that even during the current situation induced by the pandemic COVID-19, Bangladesh and India have maintained “robust engagements”.

Two foreign ministers - Dr. AK Abdul Momen and Dr. S Jaishankar – co-chaired the meeting styled ‘sixth India-Bangladesh Joint Consultative Commission (JCC)’.

The JCC also fixed a summit between the two Prime Ministers – Sheikh Hasina and Narendra Modi – to be held in December on a virtual platform.

Both Ministers expressed satisfaction over the current state of bilateral relations under the leadership of the two prime ministers.

According to the joint statement, the two ministers reviewed the entire gamut of bilateral relations and “expressed satisfaction” over significant progress in the implementation of various decisions taken during the fifth JCC meeting held in New Delhi in February 2019 and the visit of Sheikh Hasina to New Delhi in October 2019.

Noting that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic had posed significant challenges to nations across the world, the Ministers expressed satisfaction at the manner in which sustained engagement between the two countries has been maintained during this time.

The first trial movement of cargo from Kolkata to North East India through roads and waterways of Bangladesh, signing of the second addendum to the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade, export of goods from India using rail route, including container and parcel trains, are initiatives which could be taken successfully despite the COVID induced constraints, reflecting the excellent understanding shared between the two countries.

In this regard, Bangladesh Foreign Minister reiterated Bangladesh’s commitment to support India in strengthening connectivity in the region for creating a win-win situation for both economies.

The two sides welcome the holding of a virtual Prime Minister level Summit in December 2020.

Recalling that the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Bangladesh in March 2020 had to be postponed due to the sudden onset of COVID-19, the two sides hoped that the visit could be rescheduled, coinciding with the commencement of the 50th anniversary celebrations of Bangladesh’s independence as well as establishment of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and India.

The two ministers jointly unveiled a commemorative postal stamp issued by the government of Bangladesh on the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

The Indian External Affairs Minister announced India’s decision to launch a commemorative postal stamp on the occasion of the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 16 December, the victory day of Bangladesh.

Both countries decided to jointly celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Liberation War and the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in India, Bangladesh and in select third countries through their respective Missions.

During the meeting, the two ministers reviewed and discussed the issues including cooperation on connectivity, security, political issues, development, trade and investment, power and energy sector and people to people contacts.

Both sides expressed satisfaction that even during the current situation induced by the pandemic COVID-19, Bangladesh and India have maintained robust engagements.

The two Foreign Ministers recognized the positive trajectory of bilateral relations enjoyed by the two countries and exchanged gratitude with each other for maintaining the gesture of good neighborliness.

In the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic, both sides discussed collaboration in the health sector especially in terms of supply, delivery, distribution and co-production of COVID-19 vaccine.

Foreign Minister of Bangladesh appreciated India’s assurance on prioritising Bangladesh for supply of the potential vaccine in the future.

Both sides agreed to jointly celebrate the Golden Jubilee of the Independence of Bangladesh and the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. It was agreed that a virtual meeting at Prime Ministers level would be held in December 2020 between the two countries.

A number of programs were proposed to be organized jointly to mark the two epoch events, such as revival of the historic Mujibnagar-Kolkata road, honoring the Indian war veterans, ceremonial military parades on 16 December, organising friendship fairs, year-long seminars in different cities of Bangladesh and India and simultaneous launching of a website on 50 years of victory and friendship.

The two sides agreed to establish Bangabandhu-Bapu digital museums both in Bangladesh and India. The Indian government would also release a commemorative stamp on the birth centenary of Bangabandhu on 16 December 2020 to pay their homage to the life and ideology of Bangabandhu.

The two Ministers stressed on the need for strengthening effective implementation of the Coordinated Border Management Plan. The Bangladesh side highlighted that the entire nation is deeply concerned at the rise in killings of Bangladeshi nationals by Indian border forces. Indian side agreed that the loss of civilian lives at the border is a matter of concern. Both sides urged the concerned border forces to enhance coordinated measures to bring down border incidents to zero.

Both sides underscored the necessity of early resolution of the Teesta water sharing and early resolution of agreements on sharing of all common rivers. The two sides also agreed to hold the long pending Joint Rivers Commission meeting soon at the Ministerial level to address outstanding issues on water resources cooperation.

The two ministers positively reviewed the possibilities of resumption of air connectivity, during the ongoing pandemic, through special air bubble arrangement with equal share of frequencies and routes by the carriers of the two countries.

The Bangladesh side requested the Indian side to reciprocally ease visa and land border restrictions for Bangladeshi nationals, particularly for medical patients and students enrolled in various educational institutions of India.

The Bangladesh side thanked India for the concessions being provided under SAFTA. However, various non-tariff barriers and lack of adequate trade facilitation is impeding flow of Bangladeshi products into India, particularly, the North East.

Bangladesh requested Indian side to address issues of accreditation, certification, standardization, port restrictions and developing port infrastructure to enable exports of Bangladesh into India.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister requested his Indian counterpart to look into the export of essential commodities, such as onions by India, since this impacts the domestic market of Bangladesh. Bangladesh also stressed on the equitable application of investment policies by India.

Both sides discussed implementation of the development projects under Indian Lines of Credit in a timely manner. A high-level monitoring committee was agreed to be formed with Secretary ERD and Indian High Commissioner in Bangladesh leading the committee on each side.

Enhancing cooperation on energy and power sector through facilitation of tripartite power-energy cooperation among Bangladesh-India-Nepal and Bangladesh-India-Bhutan was also discussed.

During the meeting, Bangladesh Foreign Minster expressed hope that as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, India would play a more meaningful role for a lasting solution to the Rohingya crisis, including their early repatriation to Myanmar in a safe and sustainable manner.

The last JCC was held in February 2019 in New Delhi.