The Kingdom of Bahrain has a very significant expatriate population; of this demographic, 150,000 residents are Bangladeshi. We sat down with the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, HE Dr. Md. Nazrul Islam, to discuss the long-standing relationship between the two nations and potential to boost trade relations.
Your Excellency, could you give our readers an insight into your diplomatic career?
I belong to the 1995 batch of Bangladesh Foreign Service and joined the mission on March 12, 2020 as the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh to the Kingdom of Bahrain. Before this appointment, I was the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Bangladesh in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I also served concurrently as Deputy Permanent Representative to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation from 2015 to 2019.
In addition, I served as CDA at our Mission in Beirut, Lebanon, at Bangladesh High Commission in Canberra, Bangladesh Embassy in Baghdad and Seoul in different capacities. Moreover, I had domestic assignments at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As for my qualifications, I am a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Water Policy and Governance from the University of New England, Australia, Masters and Honours Degree in Economics from the University of Dhaka.
What are some interesting facts and figures you can share with us about the relationship between Bangladesh and Bahrain?
Bangladesh and Bahrain have a long history of maintaining excellent ties, beginning with the establishment of diplomatic relationships in 1974, right after the independence of both nations in 1971. December 16, 1971 is our Victory Day of Bangladesh and also the National Day of the Kingdom of Bahrain.
A resident diplomatic mission was set up by Bangladesh in Bahrain in 1983 which resulted in the expansion of bilateral ties. In addition, the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh HE Sheikh Hasina visited Bahrain in 1999 to attend the funeral of the late Emir of Bahrain HRH Shaikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa.
Moreover, we have common values, perceptions, and customs and traditions. There is another common element between both nations; we are peace-loving nations with inclusiveness, diversity, and co-existence of different faiths.
How many Bangladeshis live in Bahrain and what industries do they work in?
About 150,000 Bangladeshis live in Bahrain working across several sectors including healthcare, banking, and construction. Some of them also own small and medium enterprises including small shops. Several Bangladeshi professionals such as doctors, engineers, and university teachers work in Bahrain.
Is there a significant number of blue-collar workers from Bangladesh living in Bahrain? If yes, what provisions are taken to ensure their safety and fair treatment?
Yes, there are a significant number of blue-collar workers from Bangladesh living in Bahrain. Before applying at the Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) for worker visas, a sponsor has to get the Pre-Visa Authentication letter approval from the embassy, for which the sponsor must provide the embassy with a few supporting documents.
After their arrival, if the workers face difficulties in receiving their wages, the embassy approaches the Ministry of Labour and Social Development, and Labour Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA). For other safety and security purposes, the embassy keeps contact with the concerned authorities of Bahrain.
We are very pleased with the cooperation from concerned authorities in Bahrain for protecting their welfare and rights. I am happy to acknowledge that the Kingdom of Bahrain is a model in the region for protecting rights and providing proper working conditions for blue-collar workers.
Bahrain has recently stepped up its trade with Bangladesh. What are the current trade figures between the two countries?
Presently, the volume of trade exchange between the two countries is about USD37 million, with Bahrain’s exports reaching USD30 million and Bangladesh’s reaching USD7 million. I am confident that bilateral trade will significantly increase in the coming months.
What are some of the products being imported from Bangladesh and what do you think should be added as part of the investment agreement?
Bangladesh’s main exports to Bahrain are frozen food, agricultural products, chemical products, jute goods, and other products like ceramic, melamine, garments, fabric, etc. Since the Kingdom imports virtually all its needs, there is considerable potential for Bangladesh to expand its export to the Bahrain market. Bangladesh’s growing IT industry has big potential in Bahrain market. In addition, leather products from Bangladesh may also get its place in Bahrain.
In 2015, both countries signed an Agreement on the Promotion and Protection of Investment. I think despite having this key instrument for investment promotion, there has not been much investment in either country. I feel that we can form two committees, one between two Finance Ministers to work on potential sectors for economic, trade, and investment cooperation and another between the Chambers of both countries comprising leading businessmen from both nations. These two committees can work on projects for mutual interests and benefits. I can tell you that we had already developed a similar model between Bangladesh and KSA which helps grow investment ties between the two countries.
How do you believe diplomatic relations can be improved between Bangladesh and Bahrain?
An important step that needs to be taken by the Bahraini side to boost diplomatic relations is the opening of their embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Kingdom can appoint an Honorary Consul General in Bangladesh who can promote the interests of Bahrain there.
When will the next official visit from Bangladesh to Bahrain take place?
The Hon’ble Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, HE Dr. A K Abdul Momen MP, visited Bahrain for the very first time to attend the 18th IISS Manama Dialogue from November 17 to 19, 2022. In addition, the Foreign Office Consultation (FOC) session was held in Manama on November 20, 2022 at the Undersecretary level, where the Bangladesh delegation was led by Secretary [Undersecretary] of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Dhaka, HE Ambassador Mashfee Binte Shams, while Bahrain was led by the Undersecretary of Political Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain, HE Shaikh Abdulla bin Ahmed bin Abdulla Al Khalifa.
Many visits are in the pipeline and the next FOC will be held in Dhaka later this year. We are also expecting an official visit by Hon’ Foreign Minister of Bahrain, HE Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, this year.
What do you enjoy most about living in Bahrain? Are you currently joined by your family on this mission?
The most attractive features of Bahrain are mutual coexistence, religious harmony, liberal culture and freedom. There are many commonalities between our culture and customs. I am enjoying living here along with my wife and three sons.
What would be your advice for people from Bahrain visiting Bangladesh?
Under the dynamic leadership of our Prime Minister, HE Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of the Father of the Nation of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh is now among the five fastest growing economies in the world, ranking 35th in terms of GDP. A report by Boston Consulting Group stated that the current half trillion USD GDP of Bangladesh is projected to be USD1 trillion before 2030. So, I welcome Bahraini people to visit Bangladesh to see the development works, progress and prosperity of Bangladesh.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I would like to convey my deep appreciation to the visionary leadership of HM King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and the Crown Prince and Prime Minister, HRH Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa. Bangladesh has been a true friend of the Kingdom for over 50 years, and Bangladesh will remain a true friend of the Kingdom for many more years to come. We look forward to deeper economic engagement between our brotherly countries.