Bangladesh-Saudi Arabia relations

Barrister Harun ur Rashid

Being a Muslim-majority state, Bangladesh attaches a special importance to its ties with Saudi Arabia, which is the birthplace of Islam. Both nations are members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and Saudi Arabia hosts a large proportion of the global Bangladeshi diaspora.
Saudi Arabia’s stated policy is focused on co-operation with the oil-exporting Gulf States, the unity of the Arab world, Islamic strength and solidarity, and support for the United Nations (UN).
In practice, the main concerns in recent years have been relations with the US, the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, Iraq, the perceived threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran, the effect of oil pricing, and using its oil wealth to increase the influence of Islam and especially the conservative school of Islam supported by the country’s rulers (known as Wahhabism). Saudi Arabia contributes large amounts of development aid to Muslim countries. From 1986 to 2006, the country donated £49 billion in aid.
It is reported on 19 February in media that Saudi Arabia plans to invest several billion dollars in more than 30 projects in Bangladesh, including setting up an aircraft repair and maintenance facility in Lalmonirhat.
The plan is part of Saudi efforts to boost bilateral and economic ties between the countries, said government officials in Dhaka.
A large Saudi delegation, including two senior ministers, is expected to arrive here next month (March). The team will discuss the multi-billon dollar investment with officials of the Prime Minister’s Office and ministries concerned, they said.
The development comes after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to the Kingdom in October last year. While in Riyadh, she had called upon the Saudi business community to utilise the trade opportunities in Bangladesh.
Talking to The Daily Star, Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (Bida) officials said the oil-rich kingdom wanted to invest in commercially viable projects in Bangladesh, targeting oil and gas, fertiliser, cement, power plants, solar energy, and physical infrastructures.
Last month, Golam Moshi, Bangladesh Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, sent the Bangladesh foreign ministry a list of projects in which Saudi entrepreneurs have shown interest.
“Around 30 to 35 projects are expected to come up for discussion when the Saudi delegation comes to Bangladesh,” Bida Executive Chairman Kazi M Aminul Islam told the news media. Asked, he said it was difficult to estimate the amount of the investment right now. etails of the projects and their finances will be finalised following the visit, he said.
Apart from the projects, Bangladesh will also seek around $1 billion as investment fund for its stock market and industrial finance. Bangladesh would propose half the money for stock market and the other half to be disbursed to private sector entrepreneurs through financial institutions. The amount may come either as equity finance or loan, Aminul said.
If the Saudi delegation’s visit turns out to be successful, the crown prince may also visit Bangladesh, he said. (The Crown Prince visited Pakistan and India.
According to the project proposals sent by the Bangladesh embassy in Riyadh, the Gulf country is eager to set up an aircraft repair and maintenance facility. Saudi’s lone aircraft repair and maintenance company, Al Salam Aerospace—jointly owned by its government and Boeing—has already expressed its interest to develop the facility in Lalmonirhat, documents show.
A delegation from the company has recently visited Bangladesh and explored the potentials and skills of Bangladeshi workers in the sector.
On the other hand, another team, led by Chief of Bangladesh Air Force (BAF) Air Marshal Masihuzzaman Serniabat, also visited Al Salam’s facilities in KSA. The facility in Lalmonirhat will be developed by the air forces of the two countries, sources said.
The BIDA executive chairman said, “After Singapore and Dubai, Bangladesh has a huge potential to become an aviation hub. Apart from the infrastructural facility, skilled manpower is a must for that.” Once built, repair and maintenance of both military and commercial passenger aircraft could be done there, he said.
A unique proposal to set up a Di-ammonium Phosphate (DAP) and urea fertiliser plant may also come up for discussion during the upcoming Saudi team’s visit.
[The writer is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.]

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