The Financial Express

Five decades of BD-Canada relations

| Updated: April 24, 2022 20:24:56

Five decades of BD-Canada relations

The Canadian government, people, and media expressed wholehearted support and sympathy for the people of Bangladesh and their liberation struggle in 1971. Canada also provided much-needed humanitarian assistance, life-saving medicine, as well as financial donations to the World Food Programme (WFP). Canada was one of the first countries to recognise Bangladesh. On February 14, 1972, it recognised Bangladesh as an independent and sovereign State.

Soon after, in May 1972, Bangladesh government established the diplomatic mission in Ottawa and appointed a veteran diplomat to head the Mission. Canada quickly reciprocated by establishing its mission in Dhaka in September, 1973. Canadian families and humanitarian organisations adopted many "war babies" during the period after independence.

A few months after independence, Bangladesh succeeded in becoming a member of the Commonwealth at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting ( CHOGM) in Ottawa, held in August, 1973,  with the active support of Canada and other friendly member states. The close and friendly relations between Bangladesh and Canada were forged during the state visit of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to Canada to participate in the Commonwealth Summit. This gathering provided a unique opportunity for Bangabandhu to hold bilateral meetings with the Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau, and other ministers. These interactions, created a solid and enduring foundation for bilateral relations between the two countries. The Ottawa Summit also provided Bangabandhu the venue to hold talks  on mutual issues, with the other participants: five heads of state; three vice-presidents and eighteen prime ministers.

On September 17, 1974, Canada co-sponsored the resolution in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) supporting the admission of Bangladesh into the United Nations. Canada went on to support Bangladesh for membership in various UN organisations, including the World Bank, which through independent is a part of the UN system.

Bangladesh-Canada relations are multifaceted and multidimensional, covering many fields and areas that have grown and expanded steadily over the years. Based upon shared values of democracy, freedom, human rights and rule of law, and rights of women and children, bilateral relations have developed steadily, expanding to many fields of common interest. Canada's early development efforts involved reconstruction and rehabilitation, and then gradually moved to governance, rural development, agriculture, water management, primary education and health. Canadian government has also been engaged in socio-economic development in Bangladesh through various projects implemented by the Canadian International Development Agency ( CIDA)

The last official visits by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina during 2017 and 2018, brought relations to new heights of friendship and cooperation. At the invitation of the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Sheikh Hasina paid a four-day visit to attend the Fifth Replenishment Conference of the Global Fund (GF) in Montreal in September 2016. Canada hosted this conference to find ways to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. The two leaders also held bilateral meetings when the whole gamut of bilateral issues were discussed. During this visit, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina extended an invitation to the Canadian Prime Minister to visit Bangladesh. While cordially accepting the invitation, he expressed his eagerness to sharpen the hazy memories of his Bangladesh visit, with his father, at the age of twelve. During the visit, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina handed over the "Friends of Liberation War Honour" award to the Canadian Prime Minister for his late father Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who had extended outstanding support to Bangladesh and made valuable contributions during the War of Liberation

On the happy occasion of the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh's Independence, Justin Trudeau issued a statement on March 26, 2021, in which he said, '' At this important milestone, we reflect on Bangladesh's remarkable economic and social transformation since its independence. Canada has been a proud development partner over the last 50 years, and we continue to work alongside Bangladesh to meet the needs of Rohingya refugees and to create opportunities for both countries.

In recent years, there are three areas that the two countries are giving priority, which are: 1) Development cooperation; 2) Trade and investment; 3) People -to - people contacts.

According to Canadian statistics, Canada has extended over US$ 4.0 billion of international assistance to Bangladesh since 1972. During the 1970s and 1980s, Canada contributed more than CA$ 100 million annually (approx) in assistance. From 1975 until the recent past, Canada's assistance consisted mainly of food grains, commodities (fertilisers, chemicals)  and industrial components, including rolling stock. The ratio was: 40 per cent food grains; 30 per cent commodities and 30 per cent industrial parts. Railway diesel engines & parts were an important component of the assistance programme to Bangladesh. Present assistance programmes support mutual priorities in the areas of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls; health; skill training and support to the ready-made garment industry. Bangladesh's many world-class civil societies and think tanks offer a unique opportunity for Canada to interact and share ideas with them on the optimum path to sustainable development in Bangladesh as well as other LDCs. Bangladesh has remained and will continue to remain a natural recipient of Canada's economic and technical assistance. With exceptional rapid economic development in Bangladesh in recent years, this relationship will evolve into a mutually beneficial "partnership" in the coming years. Both countries would be able to exchange their "success stories'' and benefit from them.

The Bangladesh - Canada bilateral trade has grown tremendously during the last ten years. The value of bilateral merchandise trade has quadrupled from US$ 600 million in 2004 to over US$ 2.42 billion in 2019. In 2019, exports from Bangladesh to Canada was US$ 1484.1 million. In the same year exports from Canada to Bangladesh was US$ 940.64 million, of which 70 per cent were agricultural products. The members of the Canada - Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce & Industry (Can Cham) were of the view that the signing of a "Bilateral lnvestment Agreement" would further promote the expansion of bilateral trade.

Canada has supplied Bangladesh with more than one million tonnes of Potash since 1972. The Bangladesh - Canada trade is particularly important for the province of Saskatchewan. This Canadian province exports, mainly wheat, fertilisers and pulses, to Bangladesh, which has grown more than five-fold over the last 12 years, from U$ 49 million in 2003 to US$ 412 in 2015. The Premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall, visited Bangladesh in March 2011, to boost the exports further.

Alberta is another province that has economic & trade connections with Bangladesh. The Alberta government has provided matching grants for humanitarian projects in Bangladesh, that mainly targets the improvement of education and school facilities. Relief funds were also provided to assist the victims of the 2007 cyclone. From 2012 to 2016, Alberta province's imports from Bangladesh averaged CD $132 million per year. The main imports were woven apparel and miscellaneous textile items. The University of Alberta partnered with the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) in a CIDA funded Institutional Linkage Project. The Project's goal was to respond to the growing need in Bangladesh for engineers specialising in the energy and water sectors.

Canada's major mercantile imports from Bangladesh include: woven apparel; knit apparel; miscellaneous textile items; headwear and footwear. Garment and textile products made up the bulk of Canada's imports from Bangladesh, which has enjoyed duty-free market access to Canada, for most products, since 2003. In August 2013, the two countries concluded negotiations of a first-time bilateral air transport agreement in Ottawa. Both countries agreed to implement the agreement as soon as possible.

The popularity of Canada as a "study destination of choice" for Bangladeshi students has been rising steadily. The number of Bangladeshi students who choose to study in Canada in 2018 was more than 6,500, an increase of more than 150 per cent from 2014.

The Bangladeshi - Canada Community was about 34,000 in the recent past. In 2020, the Community is estimated to be over 100,000 and growing. They have a presence in Canada in different fields. Several Bangladesh - Canada cultural societies and friendship associations play a valuable role in deepening friendship, understanding, cooperation and people -to- contact. The "Bangladesh - Canada Parliamentary Forum" is expected to contribute to further deepening and expanding the existing friendly relations between the two Commonwealth countries.

Humayun A Kamal is a former secretary and ambassador

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