Prithvirajsing Roopun, the President of Mauritius, embarked on a four-day visit to Bangladesh on May 11, 2023, marking the first-ever presidential visit from Mauritius to Bangladesh. During his visit, the Mauritian President attended the 6th Indian Ocean Conference, and met with Bangladesh’s President Mohammed Shahabuddin at Bangabhaban, further cementing the strong bond between the two nations. President Prithvirajsing also had a discussion witth State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam during his stay in Bangladesh. The visit also included courtesy calls from Foreign Minister Dr. AK Abdul Momen and Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad, signifying the importance and value placed on the deepening of cooperation between Bangladesh and Mauritius.
Bangladesh-Mauritius Diplomatic Relations Since 1972
Bangladesh and Mauritius share deep socio-cultural ties. Both countries went through the same colonial rule which seriously disrupted their growth and development. Mauritius got its independence on March 12, 1968. Mauritius recognized Bangladesh as an independent country on Feb. 20, 1972. The visit of the former Prime Minister of Mauritius Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam was the first high-level visit from Mauritius to Bangladesh in 1978 which boosted the bilateral relations between the countries. In 2012, Bangladesh opened its High Commission at Port Louis, Mauritius to further bolster the diplomatic relations between the nations.
Over the last 50 years, both countries have forged strong economic and people-to-people connections. During the year 2021, Bangladesh exported goods worth $19.9 million to Mauritius and imported products worth $6.98 million from the country. It is noteworthy that Bangladesh’s exports to Mauritius have grown at an average annual rate of 29%, surging from $26.7 thousand in 1995 to $19.9 million in 2021. The import figures from Mauritius also show an upward trend, increasing by 11.9% from $375 thousand in 1996 to $6.98 million in 2021. With regard to investment, there are currently two Mauritian textile firms, namely the CIEL Group and Compagnie Mauricienne de Textile Ltée (CMT), that have established operations in Bangladesh.
Besides, both countries have been very supportive of each other on the international stage. For example, Mauritius has extended support to Bangladesh with regard to the United Nations (UN) Resolutions related to the Rohingya crisis. On the other hand, Bangladesh has supported Mauritius in its stance on the UN General Assembly Resolution concerning the Island of Chagos. Most importantly, the strong people-to-people connection has been the salient feature of Bangladesh-Mauritius relations. Currently, around 20,000 Bangladeshis are employed there in Mauritius. Unlike other countries, no workers were forced to repatriate and they enjoyed the same healthcare facility during Covid-19. Moreover, the Mauritian government’s decision to name a street after the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a great gesture of friendship and trust shared by the two nations. Now, the visit of the President of Mauritius to Bangladesh presents an opportune moment to further deepen the bilateral partnership between the countries.
Potential Areas of Cooperation
The economy of Bangladesh is one of the fastest growing in the world. It achieved a record GDP growth of 8.15 in 2019 and is set to become the 24th largest economy by 2036. The country is also set to graduate from the list of Least Developed Countries (LDC) to a developing nation by 2026. However, Bangladesh needs new markets and trade partners to continue its upward growth. Although the current volume of trade between Bangladesh and Mauritius is not significant, there is ample room for trade and investment relations to bloom between the two countries. Mauritius achieved the status of a high-income country in 2020. However, it slipped back to upper-middle-income status due to Covid-19. Now, the country is looking for a new economic partnership to regain its lost position. In this regard, Bangladesh offers a huge opportunity for trade and investment. Bangladesh has a vast market of 169 million, along with a big workforce accessible at a cheaper cost. In addition to the cooperation in existing areas such as textile, ready-made garment, and raw-material sectors, Bangladesh and Mauritius can explore new areas such as pharmaceutical, IT, and tourism sectors to further strengthen their economic partnership.
Bangladesh is famous for its high-quality pharmaceutical products worldwide. It is the only Least Developed Country (LDC) that meets almost 98% of its domestic demand for pharmaceutical products, which amounts to a market size of approximately $3 billion. Mauritius can be benefitted from Bangladesh’s pharmaceutical products and its expertise in this sector. For example, during Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen’s visit to Mauritius last year, Mauritian Foreign Secretary Haymandoyal Dillum urged Bangladeshi investors to invest in the island nation’s pharmaceutical sector. At the same time, he also expressed his country’s interest to invest in the IT sector of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is home to the second-largest number of freelance IT experts in the world. With youths accounting for 28% of the total population, Bangladesh has a huge potential to become a hub for IT industries in the future. Besides, Bangladesh can also learn from Mauritius to improve its tourism sector which will help the country to secure foreign currency. Tourism accounts for 8% of Mauritius’s GDP, compared to 3.02% in Bangladesh. Discussions are underway to introduce online visa facilities and direct air connectivity between the countries in order to boost cross-country tourism.
Most importantly, Mauritius, being recognized as the “gateway to Africa,” could serve as an essential conduit for Bangladesh to tap into a broad range of economic prospects and widen its market reach in the African continent. Along with SADC and COMESA, Mauritius is now also a part of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Similarly, Bangladesh also bridges South and South Asia together and is considered a regional hub of connectivity. Besides, Mauritius can be an alternative source of remittance for Bangladesh, as it hugely depends on Middle Eastern nations for its manpower export. There are already thousands of Bangladeshi living in Mauritius happily and the number is growing gradually. Since 1992, over 66,795 Bangladeshi workers went to work in Mauritius. The demand for Bangladeshi workers in the textile, hospitality, and construction sectors is high due to their hardworking nature. In addition, there have been discussions at the government level about contract farming.
Bangladesh and Mauritius have huge potential in the blue economy as both are maritime neighbors in the Indian Ocean. Bangladesh introduced its Delta Plan 2100 back in 2018 with an aim to spend 2.5% of its GDP on delta-related interventions and the blue economy has been a key focus there. The country has a coastal zone of 47,201 square kilometers with a population of around 35 million who hugely depends on the ocean for their livelihood. For instance, the fisheries sector contributed 3.57% to the national GDP. However, the lack of access to modern technology for deep-sea fishing has always been a major challenge. Moreover, despite the presence of natural gas in its maritime zone, Bangladesh has failed to exploit it due to the absence of necessary equipment and machinery. Meanwhile, being an island nation, Mauritius has an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 2.3 million square kilometers. Blue economy sectors contribute to 10.3% of Mauritian GDP. The Government of Mauritius introduced its Ministry of Blue Economy in 2019 to further strengthen its blue economy efforts. In this background, the two countries could cooperate on a number of blue economy initiatives. Such as developing a joint fisheries policy; investing in aquaculture; promoting sustainable shipping; developing marine tourism; and harnessing renewable energy from the ocean. Moreover, both countries can work together to improve their bilateral and regional connectivity by using their seaports.
Given their huge maritime areas, maritime security cooperation between Bangladesh and Mauritius is very important. Both countries share a common maritime border in the Indian Ocean, which is a major shipping lane and a source of rich marine resources. As a result, they are both vulnerable to a number of non-traditional security threats like terrorism, piracy, robbery, illegal trafficking of goods and people, illegal fishing, and pollution. Rising sea levels due to climate change are also posing a major threat to coastal areas in Bangladesh and Mauritius. As a result, they are both vulnerable to flooding, erosion, and other impacts of climate change. In order to address these threats, Bangladesh and Mauritius need to cooperate on maritime security. This could involve sharing information, coordinating patrols, and conducting joint exercises. Furthermore, given the increasing geopolitical competition among powerful nations in the broader Indo-Pacific region, Bangladesh and Mauritius must collaborate in regional and sub-regional frameworks such as the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) to prevent any disruptive incidents that may destabilize the entire region.
As two nations with shared values and common goals, Bangladesh and Mauritius have the potential to deepen their bilateral ties. The visit of the Mauritian President is a significant opportunity for both countries to take their friendly relations to the next level. By strengthening their ties, they can not only benefit themselves but also contribute to regional and international stability and prosperity.
[Photo by Aquintero82, via Wikimedia Commons]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Muhammad Estiak Hussian is a Research Analyst at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).