Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Wednesday said India is now at an advanced stage of developing COVID-19 vaccine saying friends, partners and neighbours will get priority once it is developed.
"For us, Bangladesh is always a priority," he told reporters after a meeting with his Bangladesh counterpart Masud Bin Momen at a city hotel terming his visit "short but very satisfactory" one.
Highlighting India's strength in producing vaccines, Shringla said he also briefed Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina about what they are doing to fight off COVID-19.
Like India, he said, Bangladesh also has a large population and it needs to take measures to fight off COVID-19.
The Indian Foreign Secretary said luckily the fatality rate is low and the recovery rate is high in both the countries.
Foreign Secretary Masud said Bangladesh is ready to collaborate in the development of COVID vaccine, including its trial, and looks forward to early affordable availability of the vaccine when it is ready.
Foreign Secretary Shringla expressed India’s willingness to be in close contact with Bangladesh and other neighbours and highlighted the cost advantage that India enjoys due to its economies of scale in manufacturing.
"We’re ready to cooperate," Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud.
He also said Bangladesh has a good number of pharmaceutical companies with the capacity of vaccine production.
Earlier, Bangladesh said it will explore all avenues to get quick access to COVID-19 vaccine and choose one which will be safer and useful for the country.
"We’ll explore all the options and head for that one which’ll be safer and useful for us," Foreign Secretary Masud told reporters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday.
Shringla said there has not been much contact during COVID-19 period but the relationship must continue.
"We must continue and move forward our strong bilateral relationship," Shringla said adding that he primarily came to Bangladesh to look at that matter.
Bangladesh is in touch with countries, including China, Russia, the USA and the UK for discussions and cooperation on COVID-19 vaccine.
At the meeting on Wednesday, they discussed ways to further improve the relations between the two countries.
Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla.
On India's engagement in developing COVID-19, they updated each other on the issue.
He said there has been some progress on transshipment and railway cooperation fronts, and the two countries will discuss on what more can be done.
Border Killing & Rohingya Crisis
Bangladesh expressed deep concern at the rise in killings along the Indo-Bangladesh border by BSF/Indian nationals during the first half of this year.
Bangladesh flagged that this is in violation of all bilateral agreements and that the Indian Border Security Force must be duly urged to exercise maximum restraint.
The Indian side assured that the BSF authorities have been sensitized of the matter and the issue will be discussed in detail at the DG-level talks between BGB and BSF to be hosted by Dhaka next month.
The Bangladesh Foreign Secretary congratulated his counterpart on India becoming a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.
He conveyed Bangladesh’s greater expectation from India as a member of the UNSC to play a more meaningful role for a lasting solution to the Rohingya crisis, including their early repatriation to Myanmar.
Bangladesh has long been trying to pass a resolution in the UN on Rohingya issue.
India has proposed to hold the next Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) or FM-level talks in virtual format as soon as possible.
Foreign Secretary Masud said he will visit India before the next JCC.
Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen.
Both sides agreed to convene the JCC between the two countries at the level of Foreign Ministers at the earliest, as JCC provides an excellent platform to discuss the entire gamut of bilateral relations between the two countries with an action-oriented focus.
The Indian Foreign Secretary requested Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen to visit India at the earliest, taking advantage of the ‘air bubble’ initiative of India.
India has proposed to establish a bilateral air bubble arrangement with Bangladesh amid COVID-19 like other countries, including France and Germany.
India is negotiating with a number of countries to establish separate bilateral air bubble arrangements for international flight operations.
Under a bilateral air bubble pact, airlines of both the countries can operate international flights with certain restrictions.
"We hope we can do it soon," Foreign Secretary Masud said adding that it will help Bangladeshi critical patients go for treatment to India and Indians to come to Bangladesh.
He appreciated India’s efforts to ease travel between both countries through introduction of ‘air bubble’ flights, proposed by the Indian side.
Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Ambassador Masud hosted a ‘working lunch‘ for his Indian counterpart in the afternoon.
During the one-and-half-hour-long meeting both sides discussed a wide range issues of ongoing bilateral cooperation, with particular focus on ways to address issues arising out of the COVID -19 situation.
Indian Foreign Secretary reiterated that Bangladesh comes first for India in Prime Minister Modi’s ‘neighbourhood first’ policy.
Secretary Shringla expressed deep gratitude for the kind gesture of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to grant him an audience in spite of her not having met any foreign dignitaries since the start of the COVID pandemic.
Both sides expressed satisfaction that even during this unusual situation created by the pandemic, the two countries have maintained a high level of engagement on the various areas of cooperation.
Important developments have included conducting the first trial run for transshipment of Indian cargo through Bangladesh under the Agreement on the use of Chattogram and Mongla port as well as signing the second addendum to the PIWTT.
Foreign Secretary Masud reiterated Bangladesh’s appreciation for the assistance of medicines and other medical items proactively provided by India for containing the pandemic.Handing over of 10 locomotives by Indian Railways to Bangladesh Railways was also appreciated.
The Bangladesh side appreciated the government of India for facilitating the evacuation of stranded Bangladeshi nationals from India to Bangladesh during the onset of the pandemic.
In this context, Foreign Secretary Masud requested for urgent reopening of visa issuance from the Indian High Commission in Dhaka, particularly since many Bangladeshi patients need to visit India for availing critical and emergency medical treatment.
The Indian side was also requested to reopen travel through Benapole-Petrapole land port which has been halted by the West Bengal State Government in the wake of the pandemic.
The Bangladesh Foreign Secretary requested Secretary Shringla to expedite the return of the Tablig members of Bangladesh who were impacted by lockdown in India.
Another request was also made for the early release of the 25 Bangladeshi fishermen, now in custody in Dhubri district of Assam.
The Indian side assured that the matter has been addressed and the Bangladeshi nationals would be able to return soon.
Both sides discussed firming up plans for organising joint events to celebrate ‘Mujib Borsho’ and the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s Independence as well as establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
They also expressed interest to hold programmes at select capitals across the world, as well as at the UN Headquarters, through close coordination between the diplomatic missions of the two countries.
Both the Foreign Secretaries agreed that a greater attention is required to give more impetus to the development projects in Bangladesh under the Indian Lines of Credit (LoC).
They also underscored the value of positive media reporting on the bilateral engagements between the two countries and agreed to call upon their respective media communities to play more responsible roles in this regard.
Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla arrived in Dhaka on a two-day visit on Tuesday carrying a message from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and take forward cooperation on matters of mutual interest.
Shringla, who had served as Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, assumed office of the Indian Foreign Secretary in January this year.
As the Foreign Secretary, he first visited Dhaka in March this year.
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