Bangladesh and Bhutan – two neighbouring countries in South Asia – share a cordial relationship. Both the countries are committed to multilateralism and are members of the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement. Both countries also share the membership of regional organisations such as SAARC and BIMSTEC.
In April 2019, Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering paid a four-day visit to Bangladesh on the invitation of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, which further led to the boost in relations between the two South Asian nations.
During the meeting, the two leaders expressed satisfaction at the excellent state of bilateral relations whose strong foundations were laid by the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. The two Prime Ministers recognized the new heights the bilateral relations have reached in the last decade under the leadership of the two countries and reaffirmed their commitment to further strengthen and consolidate the relations between Bangladesh and Bhutan.
Bhutan was the first country to recognize the independence of Bangladesh on 6 December 1971, after a nine-month long War of Liberation. The Bhutanese PM expressed his sincere sympathies for the genocide and atrocities endured by the people of Bangladesh during the Liberation War in 1971.
The two leaders discussed a host of issues such as transit and connectivity, energy, trade and investment, education, and health, and signed a number of agreements and Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs).
The two leaders acknowledged the expanding bilateral trade between Bangladesh and Bhutan, and emphasized the importance of further deepening their ties. The two Prime Ministers agreed to allow duty free, quote free access to 16 additional items proposed by Bhutan, and 10 items proposed by Bangladesh, and expedite this process.
It may be recalled that Bhutan and Bangladesh entered into a trade agreement in 1980 under which Bangladesh granted duty-free access to 18 products from Bhutan. The total bilateral trade volume has been on the rise over the past decade and, at more than US $ 50 million, Bhutan’s exports to Bangladesh recorded their highest value in 2017 – making Bangladesh the only country with which Bhutan enjoys a trade surplus.
The two countries signed five bilateral instruments to enhance cooperation on inland waterways, health, agriculture, tourism sectors and Public Administration training centre. An SOP was signed for the operationalization of the MoU on Use of Inland Waterways for Transportation of Bilateral Trade and Transit Cargoes.
The MoU between the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of Bangladesh and Ministry of Health of the Royal Government of Bhutan was signed by Health Division Services Secretary Md Ashadul Islam and Bhutanese Health Secretary Dr Ugen Dophu.
The MoU between Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (Barc) and department of agriculture of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests of Bhutan was inked by Barc Executive Chairman Dr Md Kabir Ikramul Haque and Bhutanese Ambassador Sonam Tobden Rabgye.
Rector of Bangladesh Public Administration training centre and Bhutanese Ambassador Sonam Tobden Rabgye signed the MoU between BPATC and Royal Institute for Management (RIM) while Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation Chairman Akhtaruz Zaman Khan Kabir and Bhutanese Ambassador Sonam Tobden Rabgye signed the MoU between Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation and Tourism Council of Bhutan regarding tourism.
Lotay Tshering thanked the Government of Bangladesh for providing opportunities for Bhutanese students to pursue higher education, especially in the field of medicine. He stated that Bangladesh has made significant contribution towards achievement of Bhutan’s health vision by providing slots for Bhutanese students in government medical and dental colleges in Bangladesh.
Sheikh Hasina assured the continued support of Bangladesh to further enhance cooperation with Bhutan in education and announced an additional five scholarships for Bhutanese students in government medical colleges in Bangladesh, taking the total number of reserved seats for Bhutanese medical students to 15.