The second Bangladesh – Republic of Korea (South Korea) Foreign Office Consultations took place at the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seoul yesterday. Foreign Secretary Md. Shahidul Haque led the Bangladesh delegation, while the Korean delegation was led by its First Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Ambassador CHO Taeyong.
The meeting discussed the whole breadth of Bangladesh-Korea bilateral relations including existing bilateral cooperation in the areas of trade, Investment and economy, human resources development and employment, health, climate change, agriculture, civil aviation, and defence, as well as other important issues such as post 2015 development goals and regional cooperation including SAARC multimodal connectivity. The meeting was held in a very warm and friendly ambiance.
The South Korean Vice Minister opened the meeting by warmly welcoming the Bangladesh delegation while fondly recalling the successful visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to RoK in May 2010. In his opening remarks he also underlined that the meeting should have taken place regularly, much earlier.
The meeting expressed satisfaction at growing bilateral trade between Bangladesh and ROK while highlighting the issue of the balance of our bilateral trade that is heavily in favor of South Korea. At present the bilateral trade volume stands at $1.7 billion.
Korean side identified the imports of industrial components and raw materials by the Korean companies operating in Bangladesh as a major reason for the imbalance and assured to put more efforts to reduce the gap.
Both sides acknowledged that there were huge untapped potentials that need to be harnessed to improve upon the current level of trade. Foreign Secretary apprised his RoK counterpart about the possibility of importing pharmaceutical products, ceramics, more jute and jute products from Bangladesh, while emphasizing that Korean entrepreneurs and big companies may consider taking advantage of the prevailing very competitive investment incentives by investing in the Special Economic Zones in Bangladesh besides in Korean Export Processing Zone (KEPZ) that also came up in the bilateral discussion.
While stressing the need for increased investment in the country, Bangladesh side requested for Korean support in infrastructural improvement including road and rail connectivity. Both sides agreed on mutual cooperation to mitigate the effects of climate change.
On defense cooperation, RoK side apprised about their expertise in manufacturing training/combat aircrafts and high-tech defense hardware, and expressed the hope that Bangladesh would consider Korea as a possible source of procurement of such items. Bangladesh side requested the Korean side to consider establishing direct air connectivity between Dhaka and Seoul which the Korean side took due note of.
On the issue of Bangladeshi nationals working in the South Korea, Korean side informed that they had already increased the quota for Bangladeshi workers in Korea to 4,600 per year from this year (2014).
While acknowledging that the Employment Permit System (EPS) model is working well, Bangladesh side requested for employing Bangladeshi sea-farers in the RoK ships. The Vice Minister appreciated the Bangladesh proposal and assured Foreign Secretary of their giving due consideration to this matter.
Foreign Secretary also thanked the Korean side for extending cooperation in the area of health management, including arrangement for training of Bangladeshi nurses. He invited the Korean side for the 3rd FOC in Dhaka in 2015. Both sides emphasized on having regular high-level visits at political level in order to further bolstering the existing bilateral relationship of strategic partnership between the two countries.
Before the Consultations, Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque had a meeting with the President of KOICA where they discussed about the areas of future engagements. KOICA has cooperation arrangement in areas such as healthcare, ICT and human resources development through training and education.
KOICA President emphasized on vocational training and assured the Foreign Secretary of enhanced cooperation in areas such as IT and training of caregivers and nurses. He emphasized on securing private investment including equities, in addition to grant and concessional loan.
After the FoC, Foreign Secretary visited the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) Headquarters in Seoul, where Bangladesh side was briefed about the activities of the 22-member international institution that started its activities in 2010 as a Korean NGO.
The Deputy Director General of GGGI informed that they could help countries plan and design good projects to have access to climate finance. Foreign Secretary also visited the Green Climate Fund (GCF) Secretariat at Songdo, Incheon( near Seoul), and had a meeting with the GCF Executive Director.
The Executive Director briefed Foreign Secretary about functions of the Fund and how LDCs and SIDS can benefit from the Fund to implement their mitigation and adaptation programmes to tackle the climate change impacts. Foreign Secretary emphasized on the adequacy of funding to combat climate change.