Dhaka, July 14: Bangladesh and Sri Lanka on Friday signed 14 instruments beginning a ‘historic journey’ in their bilateral relations as Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena termed his visit to Bangladesh a ‘historic’ one.
The instruments — one agreement and 13 memorandums of understanding (MoUs) — were signed to strengthen cooperation between the two countries in the areas of economy, agriculture, shipping, higher education, information and technology and media.
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina witnessed the signing of the instruments at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) following a bilateral meeting between the two leaders.
Bangladesh and Sri Lanka also agreed to sign Free Trade Agreement (FTA) by this year, aiming to further strengthen and institutionalise bilateral trade cooperation between the two friendly nations.
The decision to sign the FTA was finalised at the official bilateral talks between visiting Sri Lankan President Sirisena and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina held at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
After the meeting, Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque briefed reporters. Prime Minister’s Press Secretary Ihsanul Karim was also present.
The Foreign Secretary said the FTA with Sri Lanka would be Bangladesh’s first such deal with any country and necessary study would be done prior to signing the agreement.
The lone agreement on visa waiver for diplomatic and official passport holders of the two countries was signed by Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan and Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake.
The MoUs are on Cooperation in Agriculture, MoU between Ceylon Shipping Corporation (CSC) and Bangladesh Shipping Corporation (BSC), MoU between Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) and Lakshman Kadiragama Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS) on cooperation in the field of international and strategic studies, MoU between University Grant Commissions of the two countries on Cooperation and Collaboration in the field of higher education, MoU between Bangladesh Foreign Service Academy (FSA) and Bandaranaike Diplomatic Training Institute (BIDTI), MoU between Central Bank of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh Bank for cooperation in financial sector/services, MoU between Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) and Board of Investment of Sri Lanka for cooperation on investment matters, MoU between Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) and Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), MoU on cooperation in the fields of Information and Communication Technology, MoU on Information and Broadcasting between Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) and Sri Lankan National News Agency Lankapuvath Ltd, MoU on cooperation in the fields of radio, film and television between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, MoU on collaboration between Chittagong BGMEA Institute of Fashion and Technology (CBIFT) and Sri Lanka Institute for Apparel and Textiles (SLITA) and MoU on Economic Cooperation between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka Ravi Karunanayeke, State Minister of Agriculture Wasantha Aluwihare, Deputy Minister of ports and shipping affairs Nishantha Muthuhettigama, State Minister of Higher Education and Highways Mohan Lal Grero, Deputy Minister of Finance and Mass Media Lasantha Alagiyawanna and Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Bangladesh Ms Yasoja Gunasekera signed the documents on behalf of Sri Lanka.
Industries Minister Amir Hossain Amu, Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed, Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury, Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali, Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan, Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, State Minister for ICT Zunaid Ahmed Palak, UGC Chairman Prof Abdul Mannan, Executive Chairman of BIDA Kazi Aminul Islam, and BGMEA President Siddiqur Rahman inked the instruments for Bangladesh side.
The Foreign Secretary said the bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Sri Lankan President Sirisena would kick off a new journey in the bilateral relations of Dhaka and Colombo as the Sri Lankan President termed his visit to Bangladesh a historic one.
He said both leaders asked the officials concerned to complete all the necessary steps quickly regarding the FTA so that this could be done shortly.
He also mentioned that if the FTA is inked it would help Bangladesh sign such FTAs with other countries. He also mentioned that there are some FTAs in the pipeline.
“To me, this is a big political process towards trade and investment between the two countries,” he added.
About signing of 14 instruments and deals after the official talks, Shahidul Haq said seven of these were on trade and investment which means that the two sides highly focused on boosting trade relations.
About the MoU on agriculture cooperation, Shahidul Haq said Sri Lanka wants to develop its agriculture sector taking lessons from Bangladesh’s tremendous success.
Pointing out the cooperation on higher education, he said a huge number of medical students from Sri Lanka are studying in Bangladesh and the two sides signed the MoU to further enhance cooperation in the sector.
Besides, an agreement on visa rebate of the official and diplomatic passport holders was also signed, aiming to make official level consultations more effective, he added.
In addition to the 14 documents, a joint statement would also be issued at the end of the visit of Maithripala Sirisena, the Foreign Secretary said adding that a framework has been given for the first time regarding the relations between Dhaka and Colombo.