At the invitation of Saudi King Mohammad Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina officially visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) on October 16-19, 2018. It's her second visit to the oil-rich country this year. She was accompanied by foreign minister A.H. Mahmud Ali, top government officials, advisers and a business delegation.
The goals of PM Hasina's just-concluded visit to Saudi Arabia were three-fold: (a) to advance economic cooperation, (b) ensure security of jobs of thousands of Bangladeshi workers, now threatened by expulsion, (c) invite more Saudi investment.
Saudi King Mohammad Salman and PM Hasina elaborately reviewed bilateral relations at the Royal Palace, Riyadh in a "very warm and cordial" setting. Prime Minister Hasina took the opportunity to discuss the pressing problems of the migrant workers. King Mohammad Salman gave assurance that the issue would be addressed as the workers contributed to the socio-economic development of Saudi Arabia, too.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also held a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz.
In a meeting with the Council of Saudi Chamber (CSC) and the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce, PM Hasina highlighted the rapid socio-economic development of Bangladesh over the past decade and the investment-friendly policies and regulations of the country. She invited increasing Saudi investment in Bangladesh. The meeting was followed by the signing of five Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia to intensify cooperation in industrial and power sectors. The agreements are: MoU on Concerning Principles of Cooperation between Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation and Engineering Dimension of Saudi Arabia; MoU on Construction Cooperation between Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation and Hanwah Engineering of Saudi Arabia; MoU between Bangladesh Steel and Engineering Corporation (BSEC) and Engineering Dimension of Saudi Arabia; MoU between Industries Ministry of Bangladesh and Alfanar Company of Saudi Arabia on development of solar power project in Bangladesh, and MoU between Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA) and Al Bawany Co Ltd of Saudi Arabia. The agreements clearly signal the onset of a multi-dimensional economic partnership between the two countries.
During her first visit to KSA this year, in April, PM Hasina witnessed the concluding ceremony of the 22-nation joint military exercise fashioned "Gulf-Shield-1." The month-long drill was participated by an 18-member military delegation from Bangladesh.
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1975, the ties between Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia have been developing and deepening over the years. During the past 42 years, Saudi Arabia has been crucial for much-needed economic assistance, employment for migrant workers, and foreign remittances.
PM Hasina visited Saudi Arabia several times during 2016-2018. The current visit is her 4th official visit in three years. This demonstrates her intent to build a comprehensive relationship with Saudi Arabia.
She visited Saudi Arabia on May 20-22, 2016 to attend the Arab-Islamic American summit in Riyadh. She again visited the country on June 04-06, 2016 and held a meeting with King Salman and some business leaders to promote bilateral relations.
From Bangladesh's perspective, a strong and long-term relationship with Saudi Arabia is very important. Currently, around two million Bangladeshi workers are employed in Saudi Arabia. According to Bangladesh Bank data, the country received remittances around $2,267.22 million from Saudi Arabia in 2016-2017 fiscal year.
The Export Promotion Bureau of Bangladesh revealed that in fiscal 2016-17, Bangladesh exported goods worth $185.21 million and imported goods worth $605.4 million from Saudi Arabia. At present Saudi investment in Bangladesh amounts to about $ 5.0 billion dollar in as many as 25 projects.
On the other hand, besides supporting Saudi Arabia in different international forums, Bangladeshi workers are immensely contributing to its economic development. Besides, Bangladesh joined the Saudi Arabia-sponsored 34-state military alliance to combat terrorism in December 2015.
To step up relations between the two countries, the 12th session of the Bangladesh-Saudi Arabia Joint Economic Commission was held in Riyadh on March 14-15, 2018. Earlier, Bangladesh government allocated a special economic zone to the Saudi investors.
Dr. Kamal Uddin Ahmed is a former Professor and Chairman, Department of Political Science, University of Dhaka.
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