Bangladesh will open new diplomatic missions in four African countries – Sierra Leone, Ghana, Senegal and Zimbabwe – in a bid to explore new horizons of trade, investment, migration and contract farming, officials familiar with the matter told The Business Standard.
The country currently has missions in 10 out of 54 countries in the African continent and is engaged in considerable trade with South Africa, Egypt, Morocco and Kenya.
Other Bangladeshi missions are in Algeria, Ethiopia, Libya, Mauritius, Nigeria and Sudan.
"In the recent past, the government has adopted the 'Look Africa' policy to envisage a range of activities to bolster relations with the African countries. The foreign ministry has emphasised boosting our relations with the countries of Africa, especially in trade and economy, education, IT and ICT, air and maritime, health, contract farming, peer-to-peer contacts," Mashfee Binte Shams, secretary (east) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told The Business Standard.
"In order to expand our diplomatic presence in Africa, several new missions have been opened recently, such as in Mauritius, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and most recently in Sudan. The mission in Algiers, which had been closed down, has also been reopened."
"Now the government plans several other missions in Ghana and Sierra Leone. Besides, the closed missions in Senegal and Zimbabwe will also be reopened," she said and added that Bangladesh has already appointed honorary consuls in many African countries to provide consular support as well as expand business relations.
Shams also noted that most of the Bangladesh missions in Africa offer services to countries in their immediate neighbourhood in order to cover most of the region.
"Countries which have footprints in Africa are taking advantage. We, however, have fewer missions in the region. If we had a higher number of missions we would get more benefits," Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen said at a recent event.
"Now we are moving toward [opening missions in] some countries there," he added.
Trades with Africa
Bangladesh shipped goods worth $133.33 million to South Africa – the largest export destination in the region – in FY22, while it imported goods worth around $185.5 million, according to the Export Promotion Bureau and the National Board of Revenue.
In the same period, Bangladesh's exports to Egypt and Kenya amounted to only $51.71 million and $20.28 million respectively.
The export basket includes readymade garments, ceramics, pharmaceuticals, jute, food products, light engineering items, electronic products and home appliances.
"Yet trade and investments with African countries fall short of our expected level. However, initiatives have been taken to ink several agreements, including free trade agreements and preferential trade agreements, to boost trade, avoid double taxation and promote cooperation among investment promotion authorities," said Mashfee Binte Shams.
The president of Sierra Leone is expected to visit Bangladesh this month or the next and the presidents of Gambia and Mozambique may visit soon, which can bring about a significant breakthrough in bilateral relations, the foreign ministry official said.
"We have currently considerable investment from Mauritius in the textile sector. Meanwhile, some African countries have also expressed their interest in establishing joint ventures with Bangladesh, particularly in ready-made garments, pharmaceutical and IT and ICT sectors."
"Some Bangladeshi firms also have invested in Africa. Square Pharmaceuticals, which has established a factory in Kenya, is a case in point", she added.
Apart from trade and investment, Bangladesh being the largest troops contributor to the United Nations peacekeeping operations in Africa, plays a great role in maintaining peace in the continent.