Bangladesh wants to establish a direct shipping link with Maldives as part of its move to boost trade, while also streamlining the labour recruitment process in the aftermath of coronavirus pandemic.
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen and Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid will discuss the issues as they hold bilateral meeting at the state guesthouse Padma tomorrow.
Abdulla Shahid arrived in Dhaka on a three-day visit today at the invitation of Bangladesh's Foreign Minister Momen. He is expected to pay courtesy calls on the President and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.
"Bangladesh and Maldives have immense potentials of trade and investment as well as placement of human resources. Yet, the trade volume is low. We would like to augment the bilateral trade," a Bangladeshi diplomat in Maldives told this correspondent today.
The average volume of exports to Maldives from Bangladesh is $6 million and imports to Bangladesh amounts to $50 million.
The products that can be exported to Maldives include high-quality readymade garments, medicine, jute and leather goods, plastic items, ceramic items at competitive prices.
"The present transport cost is, however, high as those are transported via Singapore. If we have direct shipping link from Bangladesh to Maldives, the trade can be much more competitive," said the official.
Though there is no trade agreement between the two countries, there are opportunities for increasing trade under South Asian Free Trade Agreement. Exchange of trade and business delegations and organising trade and business fairs could help boost trade, said officials concerned.
Maldives is home to some 90,000 Bangladeshis and many of them have become undocumented. Also, the coronavirus pandemic has left a good number of them jobless, while some 15,000 of them had to return home during the pandemic last year.
"Dhaka would request Maldives to regularise and help them get jobs," said a foreign ministry official.
About 200 Bangladeshi doctors are also working in Maldives where they played important role during the pandemic.
A Bangladeshi ship carried 100 tons of food and medical supplies including 20,000 PPEs to Maldives last year. Bangladesh Airforce aircraft carried stranded Maldivian medical students and families from Nepal and Bangladesh to Male. A 10-member Bangladesh Armed Forces Medical Team also provided medical support for two months in Maldives.
These demonstrate the true friendship between the two countries and the potentials of trade, officials said.
They said the Maldives government is interested to recruit skilled professionals from Bangladesh, especially in the medical, engineering and education sectors. An MoU on placement of manpower to Maldives was signed in 2011, but it expired in 2016.
"In the meeting, a new MoU is scheduled to be signed on February 9," an official said.
Bangladesh is in a position to build smaller ships and craft for Maldives Coast Guard, he said.
Maldivian government has long expressed interest to import river sand from Bangladesh to meet the requirements of construction industry in Maldives. Discussions on this will also feature in the foreign minister-level meeting, he added.
"South Asia is one of the least connected regions in the world. We need to strengthen it for more trade," the official said.