The single dimension relationship between Bangladesh and the Middle East has evolved into a multi-dimensional interest where the South Asian country is constantly pursuing while the Middle Eastern countries are showing growing interest in trade, investment and cooperation in various sectors including agriculture. Earlier it used be a one-way traffic where planes were jam-packed with Bangladeshis destined to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates or Kuwait or any other Gulf countries and they sent their hard earned money to Bangladesh which ultimately used to meet import demand.
But now the situation is different. Now Bangladesh is seeking investment from the countries in different sectors, interested to have growing trade regime, and looking for prospective areas of cooperation to land in a win-win situation.
The oil-rich Gulf countries have expertise in energy sector and showed their interest to invest in the sector. In March, a delegation from an Omani corporation visited Bangladesh and handed over a draft memorandum of understanding for cooperation in energy sector. Petrobangla is actively considering it and after evaluation it is expected to sign a deal. The Omani corporation has expertise in offshore drilling. A company from Qatar also showed interest to expand the Eastern Refinery located in Chittagong. Saudi Arabia Bangladesh Investment Company (SABINCO) is operating in Bangladesh for many years.
There is no statistics how many Bangladeshis are living in the Middle East but in the most conservative estimation, it would be over five million. Bangladesh enterprises can target the Diaspora and export local products to the Middle Eastern countries. Pran has already started exporting to those countries and many others can follow suits. Cooperation in agriculture and fisheries is another prospective area where both the parties are working together. Bangladeshis are primarily responsible for making the desert of the Middle East into a green land. Their hard work in the field resulted in supply of fresh crops, vegetables and fruits to the markets of those countries. The food security risk has also driven the countries to produce more so that there would be enough supply from their own fields. A Gulf country, Oman, has undertaken a massive plan under which it wants to triple its production by 2020.
Bangladesh is considering to sign a cooperation agreement with Oman under which Dhaka will share agriculture knowledge and help the country to grow more crop. There is a possibility of cooperation in the field of fisheries also. During the visit of foreign minister Dipu Moni to Oman this April, she discussed about the cooperation in the sectors and agriculture minister Matia Chowdhury is likely to visit the country in July.
The United States is currently facing sluggish growth while the Eurozone is reeling under debt crisis. These two are the biggest destinations of our export items and also we get most of our foreign investment from the regions. Due to the bad conditions in those countries, our export growth is slowing down while foreign investment is drying up. In this backdrop, the future is the Middle East. They have a lot of cash and are looking for good investment destination. Bangladesh needs to provide a favourable regime for Middle East investment, which ultimately helps the country to create more employment opportunities and to grow more.