Twenty-first century is the time of opportunity for interdependence and cooperation. Therefore, any country can be benefited by another, irrespective of their location or distance. In this connection, Bangladesh-Latin America can gain from each other. Bangladesh and Latin America, both are emerging economies with lots of potential. These potentials need to be explored and harnessed for the greater interests of both Bangladesh and Latin America.
Against this backdrop, this piece looks into the question of what are the opportunities to deepen Bangladesh-Latin America relations in the days to come? Before going to investigate the question, it is pertinent to have a clear answer to the question of what do we mean by Latin America? Lain America consists of eight countries, i.e. Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, and Venezuela. In the Lain American history, military rule has been a common phenomenon.
The region started to go through the democratisation process in the 1990s. Jonathan Hartlyn and Arturo Valenzuela argue that ‘Only in the late 1970s and 1980s was there a significant retreat from direct military control of government throughout the region. Most Latin American countries entered the 1990s under democratic government’ (Hartlyn and Valenzuela 1998:4).Bangladesh also played active role in peace and security dimension in Latin America through UN peacekeeping effort. Haiti is a case in this regard. In fact, Latin American people supported the liberation War of Bangladesh. Bangladesh-Latin America was connected through culture. Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore visited Latin America and had an impact on Latin American culture through his works.Notably, many of his works were translated into Spanish language. Latin American football teams and football culture are very popular in Bangladesh. Pele, Meradona, Messi, Ronaldo are, in fact household names in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh opened embassies only in two Latin American countries, i.e. in Brazil and Mexico. On the other hand, among the entire Latin American region, only Brazil has an embassy in Bangladesh. Thus, Bangladesh-Latin America relations remain unexplored. In this age of economic globalisation, Bangladesh needs to think beyond traditional export destinations. Latin America can be a prospective market for Bangladesh. In addition, there is scope for promoting cultural exchange through people-to-people contacts.
EXPLORING ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES
Bangladesh is at a juncture of transforming itself into a middle income country. The per capita income stands at US$ 1316 while the economic growth of the country stands at six and half per cent for last 7 to 8 years. It demonstrates the economic potentials of the country which merits exploring alternative markets.
On the other hand, all the Latin American countries are emerging economies. And 21st century is often called as the ‘Asian and Latin American century’. And therefore, it is high time to explore business and trade opportunities between Bangladesh and Latin America. Thus, Bangladesh needs to explore its markets in all Latin American countries for its pharmaceuticals, leather, ceramics, melamine goods, services, IT products and services, jute products and handicrafts, agricultural products and services including farm management and cooperatives. In addition, Bangladesh Ready Made Garments (RMG) bear high potentials in the Latin American market. Notably, Bangladesh RMG sector already achieved high growth in the last few years in Latin American countries. In this regard, Bangladesh and Latin America need to work together to have easy market access, to enter into a free trade agreement, to establish a framework on tariff and non-tariff barrier structure.
Renowned economist Mustafizur Rahman in a seminar, organized by MoFA and BIISS, informs that Bangladesh exports only US$ 450 million, whereas imports US$ 1.5 billion from the Latin American region. Thus, there is a huge trade deficit. In fact, there is scope to bridge this gap. Notably, the trade between China and Latin America is US$ 100 billion, which is much higher than Bangladesh (cited in MoFA and BIISS 2016).
In this age of globalisation, Bangladesh and Latin America need to know and connect each other. Agriculture can be another area of cooperation. In fact, Bangladesh achieved lots of accomplishments in terms of ensuring food security. In 1971, many people were dying in Bangladesh for lack of food while Bangladesh achieved food sufficiency today and exports food items. Bangladesh did well in agriculture, particularly in rice research. Latin American countries can take cooperation from Bangladesh in terms of ensuring food security. On the other hand, Bangladesh can get help in the renewable energy particularly solar energy.
EXPLORING COOPERATION AT GLOBAL ISSUES
Bangladesh and Latin America worked together globally in ECOSOC, United Nations Security Council on many issues. As Bangladesh and Latin America shares the same values and norms, they work closely to maintain international peace, and security, protecting and defending human rights and humanitarian issues. Bangladesh and Latin America need to increase collaboration and cooperation in contemporary global development issues including managing global climate change, global migration, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and augmenting South-South cooperation.
In the environmental context, both Bangladesh and Latin America almost face the same problems. Thus promoting cooperation and unity at global level to cut carbon emission will be very much imperative. Bangladesh and Latin America can also cooperate in the issue of technology. In fact, there is Technology Facilitation Bank (TFB) for the LDCs and for non-LDCs; there is Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM). In this case, Bangladesh and Latin America need to work closely. Finally, it can be argued that both the policy makers and academics in Bangladesh and Latin America need to think seriously and deepen the relations between Bangladesh and Latin for the betterment of all.