Thursday, 9 December, 2021

Bangladesh-South Africa Bilateral Relations: Potentials for Future Engagement and Cooperation

Dr. A. K. Abdul Momen, MP

Bangladesh-South Africa Bilateral Relations: Potentials for Future Engagement and Cooperation
Dr. A. K. Abdul Momen, MP

The relations between Bangladesh and South Africa are characterised by close bonds, based on shared values and mutual cooperation. Although Bangladesh-South Africa diplomatic relation was formally established in 1994, the relations between the peoples of the two countries date back far in the past. Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman expressed his unequivocal support at the UN for the end of the apartheid in South Africa in 1974 and repeated this assertion many times in many international fora.

Enhancing the bonds through solidarity, friendship and cooperation is the cornerstone of this bond. The visit of late President Nelson Mandela to Bangladesh in March 1997 is a watershed event in the relationship of the two countries. President Mandela visited Bangladesh to join the Silver Jubilee programmes of our independence. During his visit, late President Mandela stated “I have deep respect for Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Standing in this great country today, I also want to be a friend of Bangladesh. Standing here as a friend of Bangladesh, I want to say that we will fight hunger, poverty and any other problem facing us.” The great South African leader, President Nelson Mandela recalled Bangabandhu’s invaluable contributions with his just stance against apartheid and assured us of opening a South African Mission in Bangladesh.

A Declaration of Intent (DOI) was signed between President Mandela and our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressing intention of both Bangladesh and South Africa to explore all possible avenues to expand and deepen the extent of political and economic cooperation.

The two countries have similar trajectory of development. Bangladesh is one of the fastest growing economies of the world. South Africa is one of the largest economies of African continent with its rapid economic progress and is the business hub in the southern African region. South Africa has been making tremendous advancements in socio-economic sectors and has all potentials to become one of the most advanced economies of the world in near future. The socio-economic growths of the both countries have offered us renewed opportunities to further foster and flourish our relations.

The Government of Bangladesh under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has proclaimed Vision 2041 for transforming the country to a self-reliant, prosperous, equity-based and developed country by 2041.The country is well on its way to achieving SDG 2030. Bangladesh aspires to be a “Sonar Bangla” a prosperous country, as envisioned by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

The Government has introduced policies for inclusive economic growth. More and more women and youth are being engaged in income generation sectors. The Government looks to achieve sustainable development through women empowerment, education and health for all, infrastructure building and implementation of a “Digital Bangladesh.”

Bangladesh, today, is recognised globally as a role model for development. Owing to sustained efforts of the Government over the last decade, Bangladesh has registered commendable economic growth. Bangladesh has been cited as a development miracle as it achieved over 6.8% GDP growth rate in last 12 years and reduced poverty by half. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, foreign exports remained quite good and there have been sustained inflow of foreign remittance by Bangladeshi expatriates. The foreign reserve has also reached higher mark during the recent years and the country's macroeconomic situation remains also quite stable. 

In the social and human development areas, Bangladesh has made a lot of progress during the last decade. The country has made commendable achievements in gender-equality, education, women empowerment, public health, coping with the effects of climate change and social safety net areas.  

In order to achieve the proclaimed visions and goals of Bangladesh, it is imperative that we enhance our bonds with our friendly countries. South Africa is one of our closest friendly countries. Our cordial relations transcend the common bonds of just friendly relations. Therefore, we attach particular importance to further develop and promote the overall relations including trade and economic cooperation and P2P contacts.

Bangladesh and South Africa has huge potential of two-way trade and investment taking into account the existing economic complementarities. During FY 2020-21, Bangladesh imported goods from South Africa worth US$ 132.6million. Bangladesh exported goods worth US$ 110.4million to South Africa during the same period. The bilateral trade remained lower than usual volume. The amount of trade can be multiplied by diversifying and broadening the list of our mutual imports and exports. I am pleased that both sides are making sustained efforts to developing the mutual trade and investments.  

South Africa may consider importing various goods from Bangladesh. Taking into account the various incentives provided by Bangladesh Government, South African investors may invest in Bangladesh Economic Zones, Special Economic Zones and Hi-Tech Parks.

Bangladesh and South African entrepreneurs may also establish joint ventures for production of RMG, jute, pharmaceuticals, leather, food, agro-processing, plastic and chemical products etc. Joint venture industries would provide opportunities for employment of workforce from both countries. As South Africa has diversified manufacturing base, the South African entrepreneurs can share their experience in Bangladesh which would be mutually beneficial.

During my recent visit to South Africa in last August, I have noted huge interest among the South African political leadership and business people to further promote the overall relations. It was really a fruitful visit as both sides had the opportunity to focus on identifying the potentials of cooperation as well as chart course of our future engagements. During my meeting with Ms. Angela Thoko Didiza, Minister for Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, we have identified certain important areas of cooperation in agriculture. We discussed cooperation in agriculture including small contract farming, market excess, trade, skill development and digitalization. We also reflected how development is promoting women empowerment in Bangladesh. During my visit, both sides underlined the need for establishing cooperation in environment area. We also underlined the importance of P2P contacts beyond government for strengthening cooperation. Both sides agreed to engage the Agricultural Councils of the two countries to promote the overall agricultural relations. Bangladesh side also proposed to the South African side for the establishment of a Centre on agricultural cooperation between Bangladesh and South Africa, which may be named as Bangabandhu-Mandela Centre on Agriculture Cooperation and be based in South Africa.

I also joined at a meeting with Ebrahim Patel, Minister for Trade, Industry and Competition of South Africa. We have identified that collaboration in IT and agro-processing industry between Bangladesh and South Africa would provide win-win situation for both countries. Both sides also have underlined the importance of joint ventures between Bangladesh and South Africa in different sectors including Ready-made Garments and pharmaceuticals sectors.

During my visit to South Africa, besides meeting my counterpart Dr. Naledi Pandor, I also met with a couple of business Chambers of South Africa. During my interaction with the representatives of Black Business Council of Bryanston, both sides highlighted the importance of greater networks between business groups of both countries to develop trade and economic relations. I also had interaction with the representatives of Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) in Sandton, Johannesburg. We focused on how Bangladesh and South Africa could diversify and expand trade and business activities. We also agreed to conclude Agreements in important areas like basic education, promotion of investment, trade cooperation, police cooperation, air and shipping connectivity, avoidance of double taxation, agricultural and environment cooperation, academic scholarship, fellowship, training and governance Cooperation; coop between chambers and other areas. Both countries also underlined the importance of cooperation in Blue Economy and Climate Change areas. We have highlighted the importance of continuing cooperation under the framework ofIndian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).

Bangladesh Government deeply appreciates the support that the government of South Africa is extending to the Bangladesh nationals who are living in South Africa and are engaged in different professions. Bangladesh-South Africa relations have continued to grow from strength to strength owing to our mutual intent and sustained efforts. Apart from being engaged bilaterally, both countries are collaborating with each other at regional and international levels. We believe, Bangladesh would be ready to take the advantage of our offer of South Africa as the Spring Board to develop its trade and investment goals in the largest Free Trade Area of 55 African countries through South Africa.

Guided by the philosophy of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman -“friendship to all and malice towards none”, Bangladesh initiated the Resolution on Culture of Peace and Non-Violence at the United Nations General Assembly in 1999. South Africa joined, besides others, at the 20th anniversary of that resolution in September 2019.

Both Bangladesh and South Africa are working together to promote south-south cooperation. With a view to borderless sharing of knowledge, ideas, experiences and successfully addressing challenges from the 4th Industrial Revolution, Bangladesh proposed the establishment of the South-South Centre for Knowledge and Innovation as it would help in promoting broader partnership among the developing nations.

Bangladesh and South Africa share similar views and positions on wide range of issues at the international forums and extend support to each other. Bangladesh extended unconditional support to the candidature of South Africa at the UN Security Council membership for the term 2011-12 and 2019-2020. Bangladesh also extended support to South Africa to their other candidature at the UN in the recent past.

Both countries are fortunate that we had great visionary leaders like Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and President Mandela who have provided the sense of direction for the country and also have envisioned the path of emancipation of the common people. Bangladesh and South Africa may explore all the opportunities for making mutual efforts for attaining the common aspirations of our two peoples. This is a common dream envisaged by both Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and President Nelson Mandela for which both the leaders dedicated their lifelong efforts and made untold sacrifices. Only by following the priceless guidelines that they have left for us, we can pay our deepest respect to them.


Dr. A. K. Abdul Momen is the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh