Last month when Maldives foreign minister Abdulla Shahid visited Bangladesh, his counterpart Dr. AK Abdul Momensaid that “Dhaka attaches high importance to its relationship with Male”.
He termed the relationship as “a fraternity of common faith and shared values marked with trust, mutual respect and understanding”.
Today, Wednesday, Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih will be the first head of state to be the guest of honour in the birth centenary celebration of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
With this top level visit, DrMomen told journalists that, the relationship would be ‘strengthen further’ by opening up ‘new avenues of cooperation’.
Maldives is the smallest country of South Asia or SAARC. But it is situated in the crucial geo-strategic location in the Indian Ocean.
Bangladesh always stands by Maldives in any crisis. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the government provided Maldives with relief assistance and helped to evacuate Maldivians stranded in Bangladesh and Nepal, and deployed medical teams from the Bangladeshi Air Force to assist in the Maldives’ health response.
Maldives is also the biggest manpower market of Bangladesh in South Asia. According to the Maldives government statistics, about 150,000 Bangladeshis live there which is one-fourth of the island’s total population. Maldives also acknowledges that Bangladeshi migrant workers contribute significantly to the economic development of the country.
This year marks the golden jubilee of Bangladesh and the 43rd anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Maldives.
President Solih, in a message before his arrival, wished continued peace, progress and prosperity for the people of Bangladesh and reiterated his government’s commitment to further strengthen and consolidate the close ties between the countries.
“Our bonds remain strong, with Bangladesh being one of the main contributors to the human resource development of the Maldives through education and training,” he said.
“May we continue to learn from Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s vision of lasting peace and prosperity, and may his legacy long endure,” he wrote.
Both countries share much in common. Both are Muslim majority countries. Maldives and Bangladesh also stand on common ground when it comes to addressing climate change and rising sea-levels.
Joint communiqué during FM’s visit
During the visit of Foreign Minister Shahid on 8-11 February, both sides discussed the whole range of bilateral issues and agreed to extend cooperation to a number of novel areas, with increased focus on exploring commerce and trade.
A joint communiqué was also issued showing the significance of the visit.
The Foreign Minister of Bangladesh stated that President Solih’s presence in the Mujib Year celebrations would be “an important testament to the enduring friendship between the two nations”.
During the visit, MoU between Foreign Service Institute of Maldives and Foreign Service Academy (FSA) of Bangladesh; and MoU on Placement of Human Resources were signed.
Both sides also agreed to establish the Joint Commission for Comprehensive Cooperation led by the two Foreign Ministers and the annual Foreign Office Consultations (FOC) through signing relevant MoUs during President Solih’s visit.
Foreign Minister Shahid noted that the Bangladeshi expatriates were making substantial contributions to the economy of Maldives.
DrMomen appreciated the regularisationprogramme launched by the Ministry of Economic Development of Maldives in 2019 to legalise undocumented workers, and requested the government of Maldives to regularise the remaining undocumented Bangladeshi expatriates at an accelerated pace.
Minister Shahid explained that the goal of regularisationprogramme is to legalise and provide job opportunities for those who wish to stay on in Maldives, and assist those who wish to return home voluntarily.
He further emphasised that undocumented workers are vulnerable to violation of their rights and it is a humanitarian issue.
Maldives, however, put a moratorium on recruitment of new unskilled human resources. This will remain in place until the regularisation of existing undocumented expatriates was completed.
But Male said that they would continue to welcome skilled workforce from Bangladesh as before.
In order to conduct the programme more efficiently, Foreign Minister Shahid proposed to sign a MoU to resolve the challenges of migrant workers between the two countries, on which the Bangladesh side agreed to hold internal stakeholder consultations.
To ensure the expatriates do not fall victim to unscrupulous brokers at either end, Foreign Minister Dr. Momen suggested that future recruitments be made through agencies nominated by the government of Bangladesh and endorsed by the Bangladesh High Commission in Malé.
Bangladesh is also helping Maldives towards the development of human resources over the years in a variety of fields, including training and scholarships.
Foreign Minister Shahid advocated for enhanced bilateral cooperation in the healthcare industry and requested more opportunities for Maldivian students in higher study of medicine and dentistry in Bangladesh.
He also requested to consider recruitment of Bangladeshi doctors and nurses to mitigate the shortage of medical professionals and sought support in the import of pharmaceutical items from Bangladesh. Foreign Minister Dr. Momen assured him of support in this regard.
The two Ministers also expressed their commitment to addressing welfare of their respective communities residing in both countries, including the speedy provision of consular services.
The two Foreign Ministers observed that there is further potential for increased bilateral trade and noted the absence of a formal trade agreement between Bangladesh and Maldives.
Foreign Minister Dr. Momen expressed Bangladesh’s interest to enter into a Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) with the Maldives within the purview of WTO provisions, with a view to harnessing the trade potentials.
The two Foreign Ministers underscored the need to have robust connectivity between Bangladesh and Maldives as a means to promote the exchange of goods and services, culture, and people. They also agreed on the need to boost private sector involvement.
Foreign Minister Dr. Momen proposed to regularly hold Commerce Secretary Level Meeting (CSLM) between Bangladesh and Maldives, annually, to address trade issues in detail, comprising representatives from various line ministries. The Maldives side welcomed the proposal.
Dr. Momen called upon the Maldives side to source world-class healthcare, RMG, processed food, vegetables and agro-products, household appliances, construction materials, and eco-friendly jute, leather, plastic, ceramic and light engineering products from Bangladesh at a competitive price.
The two Foreign Ministers agreed that a direct shipping line, established through a Shipping Agreement, would be conducive to further trade between Bangladesh and Maldives.
Foreign Minister Dr. Momen encouraged Maldivian investment in joint package tourism and suggested collaboration for market development, sharing of best practices and innovative ideas, and the exchange of expert tour operators between Maldives and Bangladesh. He particularly suggested the promotion of coastal and river cruise tourism between Male’ and Chattogram.
The two Foreign Ministers also agreed that the proposed MoU on cooperation the field of fisheries would be signed during President Solih’s visit.
Foreign Minister Dr. Momen proposed to enhance cultural cooperation, so that both countries could benefit from closer people-to-people contacts.
Foreign Minister Dr. Momen expressed Bangladesh’s willingness to offer training courses to the UN Peacekeepers of Maldives at Bangladesh Institute of Peace Support Operations Training (BIPSOT).
The two sides highlighted the need to support each other in different negotiating platforms on climate change, including in the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF). The two Foreign Ministers put renewed impetus on the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
Foreign Minister Shahid reiterated Maldives’ support to Bangladesh on the issue of forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals from Rakhine State and commended Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s generous efforts in taking care of them. He noted that Maldives had always advocated for the rights of the Rohingya people, and that Maldives was working together with the government of Gambia to seek accountability at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for Rohingya genocide committed by the Myanmar military.