What a happy coincidence that Bangladesh and the UAE came into existence in the same year of 1971.The process of their births was, however, different. Bangladesh had to undergo a nine-month long pang of birth, while the UAE was born peacefully under the Ghaf tree, wrapped in the heavenly golden sands the of seven emirates. The most striking feature of the birth of Bangladesh and the UAE is that both countries were blessed with visionary leaders like Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the UAE's Founding Father, late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan who led their respective countries’ birth processes.
This year, both the countries are celebrating the Golden Jubilee of their existence as sovereign state. On this auspicious occasion, I extend my warm greetings to fellow Bangladeshis resident in the UAE. By the same token, I take this opportunity to convey our heartfelt felicitations to the Government, Their Highnesses the Rulers and the brotherly people of the UAE on the occasion of their marking 50 glorious years of its establishment.
I have also the honour to recall with deepest gratitude the meing between the greatest Bangali of all time, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the late Sheikh Zayed, the architect of Bangladesh-UAE bilateral relations which is based on shared faith, culture, tradition and common aspirations. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made his historic visit to the UAE in March 1974 and the two founding fathers laid the foundation of our bilateral relations during that visit. Our relations reached a newer level by way of the ten-day historic visit of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan to Bangladesh in 1984. Since then, our ties and cooperation have steadily expanded and deepened in almost all areas. Over the last decade high-level visits, meetings and engagements between the two countries, particularly that of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, have raised the bilateral ties to a new historic level. There now exists an excellent understanding amongst top leaderships which will pave the way for the development of sector-wise partnership in the days ahead.
Bilateral trade has posted significant growth over the years with last year’s bilateral trade of around $1.2billion while the UAE has emerged as the fifth largest investor in Bangladesh with over $2.5billion of investment. The UAE is one of the long-standing development partners of Bangladesh with the provision of economic assistance, mostly project loans. Within the framework of the existing trade agreement, our Missions in the UAE are exploring every scope for further expansion of bilateral trade and economic cooperation. In this regard, Bangladesh eyes the UAE market with the products like readymade garments (RMG), pharmaceuticals, jute products, fabrics, home textile, bicycle, plastic products, processed food, furniture etc. All indicators demonstrate that bilateral trade could reach $2billion by the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in 2024.
Bangladesh offers the most liberal investment policy in South Asia to attract foreign direct investments in Economic Zones, Special Economic Zones and High Tech Parks. I’m pleased to note that there is a growing interest from the UAE investors for their investment in various sectors of Bangladesh like power and energy projects with focus on renewables, establishment of the UAE-Bangladesh economic zones, development of ports, agro-food processing, and other industrial and service sectors.
Bangladesh always attaches great importance to its relationship with the UAE. Bangladeshi workforce and infrastructural companies contributed significantly to the initial development phase of the UAE in mid 1970s and have since continued to contribute to the development of the today’s high-income, innovative UAE. Being the second largest destination of Bangladeshi expatriate workers, the UAE now hosts close to one million general workers along with significant number of professionals like doctors, engineers, university professors, accountants and IT experts. Bangladeshi expatriate workers are in high demand here for their sincerity, honesty, hard work, commitment and law-abiding nature. The expatriate Bangladeshis have now emerged as an important cornerstone of Bangladesh’s bilateral relations with GCC countries, including the UAE and the annual inward remittance — currently over $20billion, accounting for more than six per cent of the country’s gross national income. Some Bangladeshi entrepreneurs and businessmen who are also running big construction companies, large perfumery, SMEs such as supermarkets and steel workshops, automobile garages etc are contributing to the economy of the UAE. Bangladeshi expats continues to contribute to the truly multicultural society of the UAE.
There are a number of agreements and legal instruments as well as cooperative framework in place to further bolster bilateral cooperation, economic and cultural relations between our two countries. Taking into account the challenges facing our two countries from Covid-19 and climate change as well as the opportunities they offer new areas are being marked for developing close cooperation and partnership. Currently, Bangladesh Missions are mapping opportunities in the areas of food security, agricultural research and innovation, climate change mitigation and adaptation and ICT besides nurturing the growing defense cooperation in the areas through training, joint exercise, maritime operation, security and counter terrorism as well as regular exchange of visits between high-level defense officials and regular participation of Bangladesh in defence exhibitions.
People-to-people contact has increased significantly between the two countries, thanks to the excellent cooperation in civil aviation which plays a seminal role in this area by way of operating more than 10 direct flights everyday by the designated airlines from both ends. Cultural exchange programmes are also taking place on regular basis between the two countries. Philanthropic activities by charitable organisations and funds of the UAE at government and private level in Bangladesh continue to strengthen close relations between our two countries.
Both the countries are also working very closely in regional and international platforms including the UN, NAM, OIC, IAEA and IORA, and other forums as both the countries maintain almost similar position on most of the global issues. Bangladesh has also positioned itself as an active, responsible and contributing member of the international community, as best manifested through our lead contribution to UN Peacekeeping Operations, climate change negotiation, countering terrorism, implementation of SGDs and so on.
We are highly appreciative of the UAE’s active role and commitment for highlighting internationally the human rights issues of the forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals (Rohingyas) and other crimes against humanity. We are thankful to the UAE Government and brotherly people for their humanitarian support to this distressed ethnic community of Myanmar.
Both the countries were born with common aspiration for being a prosperous country along with the visions of their respective founding fathers. Thanks to the UAE founding father and the incumbent visionary leaders the UAE has already achieved many milestones. The UAE has now emerged as an innovation and technology incubation hub. In this context, the adoption by UNESCO of the UAE National Day on December 2 as ‘World Futures Day’, is a befitting recognition of the UAEs innovative and creative approaches to sustainable development and public services for future generations.
At the same time, following the pathways to realising the dream of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the visions of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, today Bangladesh has become a development miracle, an economic bull of South Asia, a model of economic development and for women empowerment and social inclusion, a land of humanity, and a land of promise and prosperity. Today's Bangladesh is changed with sound economic fundamentals and social indicators. Several mega projects including Padma Bridge, Metrorail, Elevated Expressway, Tunnel under Karnafuli River, Rooppur Nuclear Power Project, Maheshkhali-Matarbari integrated development project, construction of 100 special economic zones and more than two dozen Hi-tech and IT parks etc., would be operational in the coming years. Bangladesh sent a satellite (Bangabandhu Satellite-I) to the earth’s orbit, and is currently working on Bangabandhu Satellite-II while ensuring access to electricity for 99 per cent of the country’s 165 million population.
Under the visionary leadership of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh has already achieved the recognition of a 'Developing Country' and is poised to attain the status of a higher middle income country by 2031 by way of making significant progress in realising the sustainable development goals. In this context, at the ninth International Conference on Sustainable Development held in New York on September 20, Sheikh Hasina, was conferred with ‘SDGs Progress Award’ while being introduced as ‘Jewel in the Crown of the Day’ by the UN-sponsored Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SSDN). Our country has put in place the strategy necessary and the determination for taking off as a prosperous, high-income country — the 'Sonar Bangla', as dreamt by Father of the Nation, at its 70th year in 2041, following the Vision 2041 and twenty-year perspective plan (2021-2041) running parallel to Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100, which aims at making Bangladesh’s development sustainable for our future generations.
The Expo 2020 Dubai has brought the whole world in the UAE under the theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’. Bangladesh has joined along with other 191 countries to tell its own story of social and economic development, rich culture and tradition as well as to display the glorious history of its independence. The spectacular hosting of the Expo 2020 Dubai even during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is another testament to the UAE’s spirit and resilience. While wishing Expo 2020 Dubai a great success and memorable one for all of us, I sincerely commend the UAE leadership for the stellar development of the UAE over last 50 glorious years while laying their vision for next 50 years.
Before I conclude, I sincerely call upon distinguished UAE entrepreneurs, industrialists and business leaders to take a close look at our development trajectory along with comparative advantages our country offers and join us in our arduous but surmountable journey towards a prosperous country. Bangladesh would also like to take a leaf out of the UAE’s book of innovation and formulate approaches for its own development programme while underscoring greater cooperation between our two brotherly countries in the development of innovative public services, food security, and scientific and technological research in the years ahead.
May the spirit and philosophy of the Founding Fathers of Bangladesh and the UAE always guide us in the next phase of our journey to development.
Long live Bangladesh-UAE friendship!