Stronger regional, int’l cooperation needed to mitigate COVID’s impact: PM

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Dhaka, Dec 06: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday said stronger regional and international cooperation is necessary in the coming days for mitigating the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and for the rebuilding phase.

“The evolving pandemic has propagated beyond a health crisis into a growing threat on socio-economic systems and livelihoods. To counter the impact of this unknown enemy, Bangladesh has shared excellent cooperation with Bhutan and other South Asian neighbours and beyond,” she said while addressing the Bangladesh-Bhutan PTA Signing Ceremony and Celebration of 50 Years of Relationship between the two countries.

She said the COVID-19 pandemic has opened eyes to the new realities that we must consider while we strive to move forward.

“The world is countering new and deeper fallouts of the Covid-19 pandemic on countries and communities across the globe,” she said.

Terming the PTA signing event a historic moment for Bangladesh, she said that Bangladesh has signed its first-ever Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) with any country in the world and it is also the first country that recognised Bangladesh as a sovereign and an independent country.

She wished that the Preferential Trade Agreement will contribute to further consolidating bilateral relations.

“The next 50 years will witness sustained development and happiness of citizens of our region.”

The Prime Minister said Indeed Bhutan has a special position in the hearts of all Bangladeshis, and a permanent place in the history of Bangladesh.

“The unwavering support of His Majesty the Third King and the people of Bhutan to our War of Liberation in 1971, and your country’s recognition of the blood-soaked independent Bangladesh, evokes powerful emotions in our hearts even today.”

Besides, she said, Bangladesh and Bhutan share ancient linkages, common cultural values, traditions and geo-political realities.

“Today, the areas of our cooperation are many, including trade, tourism, hydro-power, climate change impacts, health, bio-diversity, agro-processing, agriculture, ICT, education, water resource management and much more.”

The Prime Minister said that it is time that two countries make their extraordinary relations even more meaningful for mutual benefits and for the overall development and well-being of its citizens and that is the spirit that both countries have signed today the Bangladesh-Bhutan PTA.

“Under this Agreement, a wide range of products from Bangladesh and Bhutan can find duty-free entry into each other’s markets. The Agreement also has provision for including an additional list of products through mutual consensus,” she said.

Once the Agreement comes into force, Sheikh Hasina said that she believed that more people in Bangladesh can have access to fresh Bhutanese apples and oranges, while the fashion-conscious people of Bhutan can choose from more varieties of quality apparels from Bangladesh.

“Infrastructure projects in Bangladesh can further benefit from boulder stones from Bhutan, while Bangladeshi pharmaceuticals can enhance contribution to the health sector in Bhutan,” she added.

She said that Bangladesh has observed with great admiration the transformation Bhutan has undergone under the visionary guidance of the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. It is today a democratic, modern and progressive country.

“His concept of “Gross National Happiness” has won the admiration of the world. His son and successor, King Jigme Khessar Namgyel Wangchuck, the Fifth King, has wisely continued with his father’s policies in leading Bhutan.”

In Bangladesh, the Prime Minister said that the aim of the government is similar and that is to strengthen democracy, achieve economic growth, and make its citizens happy individuals of a hunger-poverty-free developed-prosperous country as dreamt by the Father of the Nation.

“Today, our democratic institutions are stronger, and our economy is on a sound footing. The rule of law and human rights are well established, and we strictly follow a zero-tolerance policy against all forms of terrorism and extremism.”

In this connection, she mentioned about the ‘Vision 2021’ and ‘Vision 2041’ are guided by the dream of Golden Bangladesh as envisioned by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

“Already significant progresses have been made on food and energy security, education, poverty alleviation, empowerment of women, social welfare, and development with sustained economic growth.”

She said, as we endeavour to reach our goals, we want valuable cooperation of our friends and neighbours to strengthen our government’s initiatives, including regional connectivity designed to make all of us in the region prosperous.

Bhutanese Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, Bangladesh Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi, Bhutanese Economic Affairs Minister Lyonpo Loknath Sharma and Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr Abdul Momen also, among others, spoke at the programme.

Prime Ministers of Bangladesh and Bhutan jointly opened the logo to celebrate the 50 years of relationship.

Both the Prime Ministers also cut cakes in their places to celebrate the signing of the PTA and the 50 years of relationship.

The Prime Minister said that there are many ways Bangladesh can cooperate with Bhutan and Bangladesh is always ready to do it.

In this connection, she said that Bhutan can use Bangladesh’s waterways.

“Our waterway link already has started. We’re developing our Chilpmari port [and] Pangaon in Narayanganj is open for you. Not only that, our seaports Chattogram, Mongla, Payra, every place if Bhutan wants can use it, I am offering you that.”

She also said that Bangladesh is developing Syedpur Airport for regional use, and Bhutan can also use that too.

“We’re opening Chilahati Railway and that’d be another opportunity for Bhutan.”