At present, every country, nation, business organization and individual in the world is fighting directly or indirectly to overcome the effects of the Corona pandemic. Bangladesh is also a partner in this fight. Different countries are adopting different strategies and plan to compensate for the economic losses caused by the pandemic. These plans are being adopted based on geographical location, regional politics and diplomatic capabilities. Following this, Bangladesh is also making strong efforts to make the country’s economy prosperous by providing incentive packages and loan facilities. However, incentives and credit facilities alone will not be able to restore the damaged economy. Need to expand the trade.
According to the report of the Ministry of Finance, the loss of the country in the fiscal year 2019-20 is about 10 million US dollars. According to the information given by the Prime Minister in the budget discussion on June 29, the economic loss of Bangladesh due to the impact of Corona in the fiscal years 2019-2020 and 2020-21 is estimated at 17 billion dollars. At the time of the epidemic, like other countries, Bangladesh had negative indicators in every sector of its exports. The flow of remittances was downward. Bangladesh has accelerated the process of increasing its diplomatic activities to achieve the set targets by overcoming this huge loss, undoubtedly it is admirable. Part of this process is the development of Bangladesh-Uzbekistan relations.
According to Fast Forward’s 2016 data, Bangladesh ranks first in the world in cotton imports and second in garment exports. Eighty-five percent of the country’s export earnings come from readymade garments. Bangladesh has a huge demand for yarn and cotton due to the huge export of garments from all over the world. Uzbekistan, on the other hand, is one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of high-quality cotton and yarn. The process by which Bangladesh imports cotton from India and Africa to meet the demand includes the supply of low-quality products, Low weight, various problems including shipment schedule breaking. So, there is a huge potential for both to benefit from the growth of bilateral trade in this sector.
Bangladesh also has an opportunity to ensure remittance growth by sending skilled workers to Uzbekistan. It is to be noted that an agreement has already been signed to hire 888 Bengali workers in an inter-engineering company in Uzbekistan. On this basis, in the first phase, 239 workers have been sent from Bangladesh, whose salary is 50-60 thousand taka. Due to Covid, the labor market of several countries including Malaysia and Maldives, the second-largest labor market of Bangladesh, is still closed. In this case, Uzbekistan could be a great opportunity for the export of human resources.
Uzbekistan, a landlocked country of Three and a half crore people, is ahead in various indicators, including per capita income, but lags far behind in terms of information technology. Due to the conservatism of the land, internet facilities are not easily available to the common man, so the administrative activities of the country are relatively complex or traditional. In contrast, there are more than 11 crore internet users in Bangladesh. As a result, besides facilitating daily activities, this sector is also playing an important role in making a living. The technical accessibility of Bengalis is constantly increasing. In other sectors including banking, Bangladesh has already provided a ‘Digital Maintenance System’ to various countries in South Asia, especially Nepal. Uzbekistan has already shown its interest in this sector.
Apart from IT, Bangladesh has immense potential in tourism, textile, small and medium industries in Uzbekistan. Bangladesh can create tourist attractions through the world’s largest beaches, tourist city the Chittagong Hill Tracts, shrines of religious Sufi saints, etc. In contrast, Uzbekistan has famous religious and ancient sites, including the tombs of Imam Bukhari, Tirmidhi and Bahauddin Naqshbandi, the founder of the Naqshbandi Silsila, along with Kusam Ibn Abbas, the cousin of the famous Companion of the Prophet (SAW). Nakshaband, a 14th-century Sufi saint, has more than ten crore followers all over the world. Generally, 28 lakh people from Bangladesh go to India for pilgrimage every year. Samarkand, the second-largest city in Uzbekistan, is one of the oldest cities in the world, founded in the 7th century BC. Museums in Uzbekistan have 2 million artifacts that bear witness to the culture and history of various peoples who have lived for 7,000 years. As a result, Uzbekistan will open a new door for Bangladeshi tourists.
Tea is one of the traditions of Uzbekistan. Green tea is quite popular there. Bangladesh has enough tea, which we can easily export. Besides, there is a huge potential for the export of various products including shrimp, seasonal fruits, ceramics, dried fruits and melamine to Uzbekistan.
Relaxation of the relationship:
Bangladesh has been one of the first countries to recognize Uzbekistan since its declaration of independence on 31 August 1991. Nevertheless, in the long five decades, there has been no significant progress in bilateral relations between the two countries. Although Bangladesh opened its embassy in Uzbekistan three years after its independence, Uzbekistan has not yet opened a consulate office in Bangladesh. In addition, the Dhaka-Tashkent air service is currently closed. There is also a huge deficit in bilateral trade. In the fiscal year 2009-10, Bangladesh imported goods worth 442.70 million from Uzbekistan, while it exported goods worth only 4.20 million. In the 2018-19 financial years, the trade between the two countries came to a standstill. In this financial year, Bangladesh exported goods worth 11.50 million US dollars to Uzbekistan. In contrast, it imported goods worth 16.10 million. In the currently limited trade, Bangladesh exports jute and jute products, tobacco and tobacco products, yarn and yarn products, Knitted fabrics, readymade garments and medicines like importing textile materials, vegetables and chemicals.
The last meeting of the business delegation of Bangladesh and Uzbekistan was held on September 6 at the International Business Center in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. Its theme was “Bangladesh and Uzbekistan: Possibility to Expand ICT Cooperation”. After demonstrating Bangladesh’s technical expertise at the meeting, Uzbekistan said it would take over Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and software. At this time, Bangladeshi investors visited the high-tech park in Tashkent. At the end of the meeting, the Adviser on Digital Technology to the Prime Minister of Uzbekistan was surprised by the progress of Digital Bangladesh. He said the committee would be formed soon based on a partnership between the two countries. It is hoped that a memorandum of understanding will be signed this month (October).
In addition, the conference titled “Central and South Asia: Regional Integration, Crisis and Prospects” held in Uzbekistan on 15 and 16 July had fruitful discussions with the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh and the top five Ministers of Uzbekistan. In the meantime, two Joint Working Commissions have been formed as a joint venture between the two countries. During the meeting, Bangladesh finalized talks on the Tashkent-Dhaka flight and the opening of the Uzbek embassy in Dhaka.
In the ongoing context, some significant progress has been observed as a result of the interest and activities of both countries. For example, on January 30 this year, a bilateral meeting was held between the Ambassador of Bangladesh and the Governor of Fergana Province of Uzbekistan. There, the Governor gave a written promise to provide a free land facility and 50 percent banking facility to the entrepreneurs of Bangladesh for setting up industrial factories. Bilateral talks are also in the final stages to set up a juice factory jointly owned by the two countries, and they have expressed interest in setting up a general motor and car assembling factory in Uzbekistan under the supervision of Bangladeshi experts.
The importance of relationship development:
In this situation, Bangladesh has to play a significant role in overcoming Corona’s economic shock and achieving Vision-41 and Sustainable Development Goals. Improving Bangladesh-Uzbekistan relations will not only benefit both countries in terms of trade, but also their position will be appropriate in regional politics as well. Just as Bangladesh is the ‘economic horse’ of South Asia, so is Uzbekistan an important ‘chess piece’ of Central Asia. They have strategic, military and economic ties with the United States, Russia and China. The country is also located on the Silk Road that connects the West and the East. It is to be noted that from the second century BC to the eighth century, this long trade route of 6,500 km was the focal point of economic, political, religious interactions and cultural integration in the region. It was closed later in the tenth century. But in 2014, China took the initiative to re-launch this road under the name of the “Belt and Road Initiative”. The plan covers 68 countries of the world, 60 percent of the population and 40 percent of global growth.
Above all, the development of Bangladesh-Uzbekistan relations will be beneficial for both countries. Uzbekistan could be one of the ‘destinations’ for the implementation of the target of 5 billion for Bangladesh’s export earnings in the IT sector by 2025. Moreover, this bilateral relationship will also open the door to great potential in the pharmaceutical and tourism sectors, which will play a major role in making Bangladesh a developed country and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And for the move to succeed, relations need to improve significantly ahead of the Uzbek president’s visit to Bangladesh early next year. Through this, the desired goal of the expected Bangladesh-Uzbekistan bilateral agreement can be achieved during the visit. n