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Does Bangladesh PM’s second Qatar visit this year ignite the significance Dhaka-Doha ties?

Mehjabin Bhanu

Published: 00:28, 23 May 2023

Update: 00:30, 23 May 2023

Does Bangladesh PM’s second Qatar visit this year ignite the significance Dhaka-Doha ties?

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina left Dhaka for Doha on Monday, 22 May on a three-day official visit to attend the Qatar Economic Forum 2023 at the invitation of Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
The prime minister will attend the Forum titled "3rd Qatar Economic Forum: A New Global Growth Story" to be held on 23-25 May.
The Qatar Economic Forum is the Middle East's leading voice dedicated to global business and investment. The main objective of this forum is to find a solution by increasing mutual cooperation among the international community to deal with the multi-faceted challenges and crises going on globally and the adverse economic consequences arising from them.
On 23 May, Sheikh Hasina will join the opening session of the 3rd Qatar Economic Forum, address the students of Qatar University in Doha, and hold meetings separately with Qatar Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad bin Sherida Al Kaabi and Minister of Investment of Saudi Arabia Khalid A. Al-Falih.
On 24 May, the PM will join the forum, have a meeting with the emir of Qatar at Amiri Diwan and visit Awsaj Academy (a specialised school). Hasina is expected to return home on Thursday morning (25 May).
There are different types of analysis about this visit. Bangladesh has been achieving international prestige from international community.  Why not this visit is undoubtedly of great significance and multidimensional. On the one hand, as it is important for economic diplomacy of Bangladesh, Bangladesh immediately added a new dimension to Qatar's relationship. As a result, it can be said that a new horizon of bilateral and multilateral diplomacy has been opened through this visit.
Earlier PM Hasina visited Qatar in March this year, The fifth LDC Conference of the United Nations was very important as it was held this time after being postponed twice. Instead of being held in 2021, it has been pushed back to 2023. Its importance lies in the main reason responsible for postponing the conference. This is the covid-19 global pandemic. The achievements of this conference are widely discussed. The Prime Minister highlighted Bangladesh and called for the international community to play a more active role in the development of LDC countries.
Bangladesh and Qatar have ongoing cooperation on various bilateral issues, including labor migration (8 million Bangladeshi workers and USD 1.3 billion in remittances), energy cooperation (15-year G-2-G LNG agreement) and continued support for the Rohingya. It continues to purchase liquefied natural gas from Qatar and Oman under long-term contracts and imports about four million tonnes of liquefied gas annually. The agreement with Qatar expires in 2032 and with Oman in 2029. Qatar is one of the top energy producing countries. Bangladesh has already signed a 15-year government-to-government LNG deal with Qatar. However, due to the Ukraine crisis, Western sanctions on Russia and the subsequent increase in fuel prices, there is an energy crisis in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is currently struggling to meet the growing demand for natural gas due to declining natural gas production from local gas fields and high prices of LNG in the international market.
Qatar is an oil-rich country in the Middle East. The country is largely dependent on foreign labor to support its economy. 89.5 percent of Qatar's residents are foreign nationals. In contrast, Bangladesh is one of the world's largest labor exporters. About 4 lakh Bangladeshi expatriates work there, which is 12.5 percent of Qatar's total population. The oil-rich country is undoubtedly an important country for expatriates and migrant workers in Bangladesh. Qatar Charity operates a number of schools, orphanages and training centers in Bangladesh. In June 2017, Bangladesh signed an agreement with Qatari company Rasgas to supply 2.5 million tons of LNG annually for the next 15 years. It is worth noting that remittance flows from Qatar have reached US$1 billion in the last five years. As Bangladesh suffers from energy crisis, Qatar will stand by Bangladesh to meet its growing energy needs. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has asked Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani for one more million tons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) per year. The Prime Minister met the Emir of the country on the sidelines of the Fifth United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries at the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC) in Doha, Qatar on March 5. In view of this, the Emir of Qatar has assured the supply of energy to Bangladesh. After Bangladesh's request, the Emir of Qatar told the Prime Minister, I am giving instructions to our energy minister. Before you (Sheikh Hasina) return home, I will meet you and give instructions on what to do in the meantime. I want to help you. Qatar will always stand by Bangladesh.
Bangladesh and Qatar have recently strengthened their bilateral relations. Qatari businessmen and officials have already shown interest in investing in Bangladesh's energy sector, LPG storage terminals, power and infrastructure sectors. Bangladesh has already pursued Qatar for urgent LNG and has extended credit for supplies at relatively low prices. Qatar can contribute to capacity building in the refinery sector. OIC membership and Muslim identity can help Bangladesh in this regard.
Bangladesh, a developing country, is now working hard to make its mark on the world map. Bangladesh, like others, was affected by the Russia-Ukraine war. Lack of essential fuel could lead to loss of foreign orders for export-oriented apparel units. Production in other industries is also severely disrupted. Bangladesh has very good relations with all countries including Middle East. Therefore, it is expected that the international community will play a stronger role in solving the current energy crisis for the sake of development and peace and order.
This cooperation is particularly significant in the context of the current Ukraine war and the way various countries are trying to recover from its dire effects in the post-Covid-19 world. Here, not only financial cooperation is important, but ensuring more participation of developing countries in the international market, transfer of technology to increase the capacity of these countries and more effective evaluation of the work of the human resources from these countries working in the developed world, etc. should be brought forward. At the same time, the Prime Minister spoke about increasing South-South cooperation to combat the risk of global climate change.
But an important aspect of this visit is the beginning of a new chapter in Bangladesh-Qatar relations. We know that the bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and Qatar has seen a lot of positive changes over the past decade. Although Qatar and Bangladesh have always been considered as friendly countries. But recently this relationship is getting stronger and stronger. Once the Bangladesh-Qatar relationship was seen only as a market for Bangladeshi expatriate workers. Now, however, many important aspects of this relationship have been revealed. The top-level leaders of the two countries especially Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad are working to establish a strong partnership. Energy cooperation is one of the important topics during this visit. Bangladesh wants Qatar to supply more LNG. Bangladesh now imports 40 containers worth of electricity, or 1.8 to 2.5 MTA. Bangladesh wants one more MTA, equivalent to 16-17 containers. The second area of cooperation is to help the nearly 5 lakh Bangladeshis living in Qatar and working to improve their standard of living. Bangladesh expects Qatar to treat expatriate workers more favorably. At the same time, Bangladesh urged to take note of the fact that the way of accepting expatriates from Bangladesh should also be opened.
We know that there can be great cooperation between the two countries of Bangladesh and Qatar only when the top-level leadership of the two countries speak in the same tone and this visit shows that the Emir of Qatar completed the discussions with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh with great sincerity. Considering the context and content of those discussions, it appears that Qatar considers Bangladesh as an important friend.
On the other hand, Bangladesh has been able to highlight its own importance correctly. Qatar has been able to realize the current economic progress of Bangladesh and its retention, overall position that Bangladesh has created in South Asia and yet in Asia. Apart from this, Bangladesh has taken one step over the past few years, which is conducive to Bangladesh's development and foreign investment - and that is to create investment opportunities through 100 economic zones, where foreign investment is already coming. Bangladesh has opened some regions for investment to some countries including Japan, China, South Korea or India. Similarly, the possibility of opening up such a region for Qatar has arisen. Because the favorable investment environment in Bangladesh, especially as a labor-intensive economy, Bangladesh is always ahead of others. Added to this is the political stability and efficient leadership of Bangladesh. By combining these factors, Bangladesh has managed to ensure an investment-friendly environment at present.
Besides, Bangladesh also has a big market. Therefore, the issue of attracting investment in Qatar has come to the fore. Prime Minister highlighted the investment situation in Bangladesh at the Business Summit. He spoke directly with Qatari investors. So, a big progress can be expected.
Apart from this, our diplomatic relations with Qatar are getting stronger. Bangladesh and Qatar are looking at various international issues, especially the challenges of the Muslim world, from a common position. Naturally, Bangladesh expects Qatar to play a greater role in solving the Rohingya problem. Especially at a time when global support for the Rohingya is dwindling, OIC countries can step in and Qatar can play a key role here. Fresh support from Qatar can be expected from the importance attached to the matter by the Prime Minister.
Analyzing recent events, it can be seen that Qatar has created a special position in the current world, especially in the Arab world and the Middle East. Qatar has been able to achieve a special diplomatic status due to its geographical location, energy and soft power. The World Cup that ended a few days ago is a shining example of football. Therefore, both countries can benefit by deepening and expanding our bilateral relations with Qatar.
However, in this case, the change in the traditional view of Bangladesh in the Muslim world, especially in the Arab world, should be faster. Because the Bangladesh of eighties is no more. This Bangladesh is a different Bangladesh. The entire Arab world, including Qatar, should look at Bangladesh with the same eyes as India, Malaysia or Indonesia. Bangladesh is no longer a labor-based economy as it was in the 1980s. And its reflection can be seen in Qatar Emir's attitude towards Bangladesh.
Besides, Bangladesh is giving a strong leadership in the Muslim world. The relationship between Bangladesh and Qatar is very old, it started from Bangabandhu's participation in the OIC conference in 1974. Crossing over four decades, this relationship is now moving towards a stronger structure. Both countries are now working to create a win-win situation. Therefore, it is expected that Bangladesh and Qatar will move forward together with the vision of mutual trust and dependence and Qatar will play a stronger role in facing the various challenges of Bangladesh, at the same time Bangladesh will also play an active role in consolidating friendship with Qatar. The partnership between the two countries will go a long way.
Mehjabin Bhanu is a Bangladeshi writer, columnist, commentator on international affairs specially South Asian affairs. 
 

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