Malaysian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Haznah Md Hashim has said she is optimistic that Dhaka and Kuala Lumpur would soon sign a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) to boost bilateral trade.
While delivering her keynote speech at Cosmos Foundation's virtual dialogue titled "Bangladesh-Malaysia Relations: Prognosis for the Future", she also said trade and investment may determine the future course of relations between the two nations.
Apart from FTA, the high commissioner said the potential areas of future collaboration are "definitely in the areas of digital economy".
"What is even more important for both countries [is] to enhance the bilateral relations on areas such as trade and investment, which may determine the direction of the relations in the next decade or so. In this regard, again, it is my hope that a FTA will be concluded between Malaysia and Bangladesh," she said.
Cosmos Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Cosmos Group, hosted the dialogue that premiered on Thursday evening.
The opening remarks were delivered by Cosmos Foundation Executive Director Nahar Khan.
The session was chaired by Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, a renowned scholar-diplomat and former adviser on foreign affairs to the last caretaker government.
Ambassador (retd) Farooq Sobhan, Yanitha Meena, a researcher in the Foreign Policy and Security Studies programme of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS), Dhaka University Professor Imtiaz Ahmed and Dhaka University Professor Dr Rashed Al Mahmud Titumiir were panel discussants.
High Commissioner Haznah said her ultimate aim is to conclude a FTA between the two countries so that the established trade relations between Malaysia and Bangladesh could even be stronger without unnecessary issues on trade barriers.
"The negotiations for the proposed Malaysia-Bangladesh bilateral FTA have yet to begin...let's therefore hope that the negotiations would start soonest for the good of our two brotherly countries," the envoy said.
The high commissioner listed the areas like defence, aero-space and food security where bilateral cooperation could also be enhanced.
Although the foreign workers' sector has dominated the bilateral scene of Malaysia-Bangladesh relations, she said it is high time that the two countries pivot their relations away from this.
Cosmos Foundation Executive Director Nahar Khan said through the last five decades, there have always been genuine efforts and initiatives to enhance cooperation from both sides, be it through trade or investment, through labour mobility, or through capacity building and education.
"Clearly, we're not short of options when it comes to deepening ties between Bangladesh and Malaysia, and the cultural as well as religious affinities we share much room to manoeuvre," Khan viewed.
The Chair, Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, described the excellent bilateral relations as "unsurprising", given the commonalities of values between the two Muslim-majority nations.
He said it is high time for the two countries to seriously reflect on the possibilities of free-trade agreement.
Former ambassador Farooq Sobhan underlined the need for expanding and strengthening bilateral relations with the South-East Asian countries.
Regarding the further expansion of relations, he said it's very important to work very closely together on the issue of Bangladesh's manpower exports.
Farooq Sobhan believes that there are several important areas of collaboration in the field of education as well.
Prof Dr Imtiaz Ahmed said Bangladesh and Malaysia need to change their traditional mindsets to build a brighter future, capitalising on the existing ties between the two countries.
Dr Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir focused on the issue of FTA and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, or RCEP to deepen the cooperation between the two nations.
"Malaysia can play an essential role in ensuring Bangladesh's further engagement with ASEAN, which will be important for both the countries," he said.
Malaysian researcher Yanitha Meena described her country's relationship with Bangladesh as somewhat stereotypical one. "Putrajaya has not fully capitalized on the various other business of cooperation with Bangladesh."
As Bangladesh has an impressive track record for growth and development in the region, she said it is timely opportunity for Malaysia to diversify its relations with Bangladesh.
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