All praise for Bangladeshi workers, Serbian FM wants stronger ties

Serbia is keen to take skilled and semi-skilled manpower from Bangladesh in the construction and agriculture sectors, said its Foreign Minister Nikola Selaković.

"Bangladeshi professionals working in Serbia are very skilled. Some are the very best," Selaković was all praise for Bangladeshi workers working in the Southeast European country.

"Serbian companies and foreign companies operating in Serbia are very satisfied with Bangladeshi professionals," he said in an exclusive interview with The Business Standard.

"Bangladeshi workers in Serbia on our construction site have a direct impact on our economic growth," added the top Serbian diplomat, who was visiting Bangladesh to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

During the two-day official visit to Bangladesh on 25-26 May, the Serbian foreign minister held a meeting with his Bangladeshi counterpart AK Abdul Momen. He also had engagements with a few high-ups of the government and members of the business community.

Describing Serbia as an industrial and agricultural country, Selaković said they need a qualified and skilled workforce that Bangladesh has.

He hinted on the possibility of an agreement on the exchange of labours based on his discussions with top Bangladeshi officials.

Regarding visa complication to visit Serbia, Selaković said his country is ready to introduce more efficient ways to secure visas including the establishment of a temporary consulate in Dhaka for Bangladeshi visitors to the country.

Regarding potential areas of cooperation, the Serbian minister appreciated Bangladesh's role in the world's industrial production, terming Bangladesh as No 1 in the RMG and textile industry.

He said Bangladesh may benefit by establishing joint ventures with Serbia and export to the massive market of Europe and Eurasian Union.

"We have FTA with the EU, which has a market of more than half a billion [people]. We have an FTA with Eurasian Union – that means Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkistan and Armenia – which is a market of 200 million. We have an FTA with Turkey which is a market of 85 million. If you add up, it is almost a 800 million people market where goods from Serbia enjoy tax-exemption," he elaborated.

He suggested finding companies in both the countries to work together to produce new products targeting this market.

He said he had discussions with the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FBCCI) and discussed how chambers of both countries can collaborate.

Quoting economic data, the Serbian minister said in the last year trade between both countries was worth $108 million, of which $105 million were exported from Bangladesh.

The bilateral relation between Bangladesh and Serbia will become stronger in the coming days, he said and hoped that through direct cooperation between two chambers, all obstacles will be removed and new avenues will be opened.

Nikola Selaković said his country is keen to support young professionals of Bangladesh.

"We think the youth in your country is not well informed about Serbian scholarship. We offer full scholarships, and in the last 10 years only two Bangladeshi students availed the opportunity," he said, hoping that more Bangladeshi students will avail scholarship opportunities in the next academic year.

Regarding the visit, which was the first by a Serbian top official since 1974, Selaković said, "I am paying this official visit…not only to celebrate the 50 years of our diplomatic relations but also to show a good and strong will of my generation to boost the economic, social and political cooperation with the Bangladesh."

Bangladesh has been connected with Serbia since 1972 when former Yugoslavia was among the first states to recognise Bangladesh after independence. Then President of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Josip Broz Tito (Marshal Tito) took a bold initiative to help Bangladesh enter the UN and the NAM.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Muzibur Rahman visited Belgrade and later Marshal Tito visited Dhaka.

Selaković said, "Marshal Tito and Bangabandhu made the relations very strong."

He termed Serbia as the largest successor of former Yugoslavia and stressed on bolstering relations with friendly countries.

"We are not forgetting our old friends and partners. We would like not only to maintain our relations with them but to find the best way to take it to the next level," he added.

During the interview, the Serbian foreign minister talked about the current global situation and observed that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is having a tremendous impact on the world as a whole.

He clarified Serbia's position on the conflict and said, "Our country is the only state in Europe which hasn't joined sanctions against Russia. One of the reasons is that we do not consider sanctions as an effective way of resolving a crisis. Another reason is that my country was under sanctions for almost ten years.

"On the other hand, Serbia is 100% dependent on Russia for gas supply, 60% for oil supply."

He appreciated Bangladesh's position on the crisis. "We see that Bangladesh is trying to keep neutral. We appreciate the position. It shows that you have a sovereign foreign policy."

The Serbian minister said he was impressed to see the results of economic reforms led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

He praised the completion of Padma bridge and ongoing development projects including the metro rail in the capital.

"It is truly impressive how Bangladesh started 50 years ago as one of the poorest countries in the world and is now moving towards becoming a developed country," he said.

He hoped that after his visit there would be more engagement between the two countries.

"I will try my best for our two leaders, the Bangladeshi PM and our president, to meet as soon as possible," added Selaković.