In March 2014, Malé decided to close its High Commission office in Dhaka because of the reduction in the annual budget. At that time, Dhaka offered to pay the rent for the Maldives' embassy office and bear other official expenditures in Dhaka. Though the Maldives politely rejected this offer, this implies the closeness and depth of the relationship between the two South Asian Countries.
Recently, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina completed her maiden six-day visit to the Maldives accepting the invitation of the Maldives' President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. It is important to focus on the significance of this visit and delve deep into the message it carries.
The journey of Bangladesh and the Maldives' diplomatic ties started on 22 September 1978. Since then, these two countries are maintaining close bilateral relations with cooperation in trade, investment, security, and military assistance. In order to encourage bilateral trade, Maldives Government removed duty on Bangladeshi goods in 2011. This resulted in a boost in Bangladeshi exports especially pharmaceutical products to the Maldives. Many Bangladeshi migrants, approximately 70,000 to 80,000, are working in the Maldives as expatriates which contribute directly to the foreign exchange reserves of Bangladesh. During the pandemic of covid-19, the Bangladesh Navy sent more than 100 metric tons of food and pharmaceutical goods to the Maldives and the Bangladesh Air Force actively participated in the covid-19 vaccination programme there in 2021.
The visit of Bangladesh's PM to the Maldives is significant, not only for Bangladesh and Maldives but also for other South Asian countries. Firstly, this visit will enhance existing bilateral relations on trade, connectivity, investment, agriculture, information and communication technology, human resource development, culture, and community welfare as leaders of both states held dialogues highlighting these issues. Secondly, the signing of MoU for the recruitment of skilled healthcare professionals will open up an avenue for relevant practitioners. On the one hand, it will generate foreign exchange for Bangladesh by creating jobs for Bangladeshi health care professionals and on the other hand, it will improve the overall healthcare industry in the Maldives. This is how it will create a win-win situation for both countries. Thirdly, the agreement for elimination of double taxation will ensure that honest taxpayers do not have to pay tax in two countries for the same income. This will effectively promote FDI in both countries by motivating foreign investors. Fourthly, Bangladesh gave 13 military vehicles, as a token of friendship, to the Maldives which will enhance security cooperation and strengthen the fraternal ties among the security forces of these countries. Fifthly, Bangladesh inked an agreement to lend a $200 million loan to the Maldives during the visit. This is the second time Bangladesh is going to lend to any country, after Sri Lanka, which once again proves Bangladesh's economic rise and financial strengths in this region. Besides, it also shows how to stand by close friends during their critical times. Sixthly, the decision to cooperate in Youth and Sports Development will contribute greatly to improve this sector by encouraging youth to actively participate in sports and by patronising local sports-related organisations. Seventhly, from now on, the citizens of Maldives will get visa-free entry to Bangladesh which will not only increase people-to-people connectivity but also increase the trade volume and foster the tourism sector of Bangladesh. Eighthly, the agreement to transfer "sentenced prisoners" will also help these countries to bring the culprits to their land for justice. Finally, the Bangladesh's PM declared that Biman Bangladesh Airlines is all set to launch air connectivity with the Maldives which will increase bilateral trade and investment and subsequently have a positive impact on the livelihood of the people of these countries.
The Bangladesh PM's visit to the Island country reflects the importance it attaches to this bilateral relationship as long-standing friends. But there are many other issues, equally important for both countries, that could be addressed to make the bilateral bonding more meaningful and beneficial to both countries. As both countries have similar religious values, cultural practices, and developmental aspirations, they may declare a clearly defined plan on how they are going to cooperate with each other in the coming days to take the ties to a new high.