Bangladesh will get priority in getting Covid-19 vaccine once produced by India, Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said yesterday, but did not specifically mention anything on conducting vaccine trial in Bangladesh which was sought by Dhaka.
"For us, Bangladesh is always a priority country," he told reporters after an about one-and-a-half-hour meeting with his Bangladeshi counterpart Masud Bin Momen at the capital's Hotel Shonargaon.
He also said India was conducting stage three trial of Covid-19 vaccines and that the trials reached an advanced level.
Meanwhile, Times of India yesterday reported that India was eyeing the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine candidate as the likely first shot against Covid-19 to be available for Indians by the end of this year. The country was also conducting trial of two locally-developed vaccines, which may come a few weeks after the Oxford vaccine, it said.
Talking to reporters after the meeting, which ended around 2:30pm, Shringla said, "We are going to produce vaccine on a massive scale. India produces 60 percent of the world's vaccines. When the [Covid-19] vaccine is produced, it goes without saying that our closest neighbors, friends, partners and other countries will be part of it."
He, however, did not say anything concrete on fulfilling Bangladesh's expectation that India conducts vaccine trials here.
Talking to the reporters, Masud Bin Momen said, "We offered that we can extend our assistance, if needed, especially in terms of vaccine trial … we are ready.
"The Indian side then positively responded, saying that they are developing vaccines that are not only for them but also for others. In that case, Bangladesh will get a priority."
Momen said Bangladesh has a good number of pharmaceutical companies having enough capacity to produce vaccine. "We sought their cooperation in creating collaboration to that end," he said.
Shringla, who came to Dhaka on a sudden visit on Tuesday, left for Delhi about 3:00pm yesterday.
On Tuesday night, he called on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and conveyed to her Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's message that India has deep and close ties with Bangladesh, which needs to move forward.
But as his visit was not pre-announced, it created curiosity in public mind, especially after various media outlets recently reported on Indo-Bangla relations.
Some media outlets said Bangladesh was being tilted towards China, which had sent a medical team to Bangladesh during this ongoing pandemic and also wants to conduct vaccine trial here.
In July, Bangladesh Medical Research Council had approved the third stage trial of a vaccine developed by a Chinese company named Sinovac Research and Development Co Ltd.
The government, however, has yet to take any final decision. Medical researchers said there could be geo-political factors behind it.
Some outlets also reported that Indian projects in Bangladesh were getting slow, while the Chinese ones were being implemented faster.
Asked if there was any tension in the relations between the two neighbouring countries, Momen said, "no country has normal relations during the Covid-19 [pandemic].
"As a breakthrough, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent Secretary Shringla [to Dhaka]. India gives special importance on relations with Bangladesh. Therefore, they first chose Bangladesh for the visit during the pandemic."
On the media reporting on Bangladesh-India relations in recent times, Momen said, "We agreed that we will give messages to the mainstream media on the progress of our relations. We saw during the Covid-19 that we could not interact with you."
Both foreign secretaries agreed to call upon their respective media communities to play more responsible roles in this regard, he said.
Asked if they discussed the Teesta water sharing issue and a recent media report that India is concerned over a possible irrigation project in the Teesta river with Chinese loan, Momen said, "No".
Bangladesh has expressed deep concern over the rise in killings at the Indo-Bangla border by BSF/ Indian nationals during the first half of this year.
Momen did not give any figure, but rights body Ain o Salish Kendra said at least 43 Bangladeshis were killed by the BSF in 2019. The number was 15 in 2018, 24 in 2017, and 31 in 2016.
"Bangladesh flagged that this is in violation of all bilateral agreements and that the Indian Border Security Force must be duly urged to exercise maximum restraint," the Bangladesh foreign ministry said in a statement yesterday.
The Indian side assured that the BSF authorities had been sensitized of the matter and that the issue would be discussed in detail at the DG-level talks between BGB and BSF to be hosted by Dhaka next month.
POST-COVID RECOVERY PLAN
The two secretaries also discussed the options of speeding up bilateral trade, travel and various projects that got halted or slowed due to the pandemic.
Momen said trade through the Petropole-Benapole got stuck due to the pandemic, but the two countries alternatively arranged trains for goods transport.
Now the land port is being opened slowly. Besides, the trial run of transshipment from India via Bangladesh's sea and land to Northeast India was conducted as well.
However, there are many other mechanisms in power sector, infrastructure, and Indian Line of Credit. Those have somewhat got halted because many Indian experts had to return to their country after the outbreak. They now started coming back, he said.
He said Bangladesh was actively considering India's proposal of air bubble agreement allowing air travel between the two countries. India is also doing it with some other countries, including its neighbours.
"In that case, many Bangladeshis going to India for critical treatment can start going there. Besides, Indian consultants working in Bangladeshi projects can also return. As our economy revives, they can come and join work," he said.
Dhaka and Delhi also decided to hold ministerial level Joint Consultative Committee meeting at the soonest where they can assess the progress of various line ministry projects that need impetus. The meeting, whose date will be declared soon, can provide guidelines to that end, the foreign secretary said.
Shringla also invited Momen to visit India.
At the meeting, Dhaka also pointed out some Bangladeshis, including 26 fishermen and over a 100 Tabligi Jamaat members, have been stranded in India amid the pandemic. He sought India's cooperation for their repatriation, which was responded positively.
'PURSUE MYANMAR FOR ROHINGYA REPATRIATION'
Momen said India has been elected non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, and Bangladesh supported India. From January next, India will take sit at the Council that discusses important global issues.
"Our issue of concern is the Rohingyas. In the past, we tried hard for passage of a resolution on the Rohingya issue, but it did not happen due some permanent members' reservation," he said, adding that Bangladesh sought India's assistance in making that happen in the future.
Forced out of Myanmar, more than a million Rohingyas are now sheltered in Cox's Bazar.
Momen said India has good relations with Myanmar and is building infrastructure in Rakhine for the Rohingyas. "We requested India also to pursue Myanmar for Rohingya repatriation," he said.
"In the light of close relations with Bangladesh, India has promised to help Bangladesh to this end," he added.