Bangladesh and Singapore signed a memorandum of cooperation (MoC) on Wednesday to set a stage for negotiation on a free trade agreement (FTA) and explore potential for trade and investment opportunities between the two countries.

Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi and visiting Singapore Minister for Trade Relation and Industry AS Iswaran signed the MoC in Dhaka.

The signing ceremony was told that a joint working group, already formed in this regard, will soon sit to discuss areas of trade and business cooperation, including the FTA.

Prime Minister's Private Industry and Investment Advisor Salman F Rahman was present at the ceremony, moderated by Senior Secretary of Commerce Tapan Kanti Ghosh.

Members of the Singaporean delegation, including ones from the Singapore High Commission in Dhaka, and officials of the Bangladesh Ministry of Commerce were present.

The Commerce Minister said that although the balance of trade is in favour of Singapore, the country is one of the top investors and one of the largest trading partners of Bangladesh.

He said the MoC will help upgrade and develop the capacity of domestic industries to tap the potentials in the South East Asian markets.

Expressing the hope that the MoC is likely to create a new era of working with optimum opportunities by pursuing the FTA between the two countries, the minister said the joint working group will explore the areas of cooperation and prospective trade blocs.

He referred to the challenges that still remain due to the Covid pandemic and Russia-Ukraine war, Mr Munshi said the LDC graduation has also made the country focus more on finding trade, investment opportunities and collaboration between the private sectors of the two countries.

Bangladesh's exports to Singapore were only US$127.12 million during fiscal year 2021-22 against its imports from Singapore worth $4.11 billion.

The Singaporean minister said the joint working group will sit to clear and create better understanding on the ideas of cooperation including FTA and hoped that the potential sectors will be coming out following the joint meetings.

Terming the MoC a milestone, he said the bilateral cooperation may help address the challenges ahead in the economies with the partnership in a situation of recession that disrupted the supply chain among others.

The PM's Advisor said the MoC is expected to enhance the trade relationship between the two countries as huge opportunities lie in trade and investment.

Before signing of the MoC, the delegations of Bangladesh and Singapore sat to identify preliminary sectors of cooperation and selected 16 sectors including jute and jute products, textiles and apparels, agriculture, renewable energy, ICT, light engineering, leather and leather products, skills development, transport, logistics, digital economy and education services.

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