Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Wednesday described his Bangladesh trip as "very satisfactory" as he wrapped up a two-day visit here during which he called on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and held talks with his counterpart on bolstering bilateral ties as well as on the supply of COVID-19 vaccine to Dhaka once it is developed.
Shringla, who arrived here on Tuesday on his second visit to Bangladesh after he took office as the foreign secretary, held talks with Masud Bin Momen, a day after meeting Prime Minister Hasina.
"I have a very satisfactory visit, a very short visit," Shringla told reporters after the meeting with his counterpart. He said India would make the potential COVID-19 vaccine available for Bangladesh on a priority basis once it was produced in partnership with its developer UK's Oxford University, who appeared to be a frontrunner in the global race for developing the inoculation.
"When (COVID) vaccine is developed, friends, partners and neighbours will get it without any saying, for us Bangladesh is always a priority," Shringla said. He said India, which produces 60 per cent of the global vaccines, has now reached the stage of trying the vaccine with an objective to produce it on a massive scale.
Shringla on Tuesday called on Bangladesh Prime Minister Hasina at her official residence during which they discussed security-related issues of mutual interest and co-operation in containing the coronavirus pandemic and revival of the economy in a post-COVID-19 world. Shringla, who was earlier India's High Commissioner here, said he briefed her about various measures India took to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent him to Dhaka to carry forward the excellent India-Bangladesh relations even during the pandemic situation.
"Reason I came here is that our prime minister felt during COVID time there is not much contact, but the relationship (India-Bangladesh) must continue," Shringla said.
"We must continue to move forward towards our strong bilateral relations and I came primarily to look at that point," he said. Bangladesh foreign secretary, meanwhile, said that India has assured Dhaka that it would be its first priority in providing the prospective vaccine it was developing.
"We (Bangladesh) offered any cooperation that India may require regarding vaccine trials…Bangladesh is ready to cooperate," Masud said, adding that Indian side took it "positively". He said Bangladesh also sought Indian cooperation to involve Bangladeshi pharmaceuticals in developing the COVID-19 vaccine in collaboration with Indian pharmaceuticals.
He said the two sides also discussed measures and cooperation between Dhaka and New Delhi regarding economic recovery during and post pandemic period. The two top diplomats also discussed about a possible virtual meeting of the Joint Consultative Commission (JCC) at the foreign ministers' level between Dhaka and New Delhi.
"Maybe I will visit New Delhi before the JCC meeting to fix the agendas, Masud said, adding both sides wanted to hold the JCC meeting in the shortest possible time to advance further the Bangladesh-India relations. The Bangladesh foreign secretary said both sides agreed to introduce an air travel bubble during this pandemic situation for allowing treatment aspirants and businessmen to travel between the two neighboring countries.
Under the air bubble mechanism air connectivity will be restored between only Bangladesh and India where no third country will be involved that means the airlines will not take any transit passengers. India has already introduced such air bubbles with France, Germany, the UAE and Maldives, an Indian diplomat stationed in Bangladesh said.
The two foreign secretaries also discussed the latest situation of the Rohingya refugees. India reiterated its position on safe, secure and sustainable Rohingya repatriation. Nearly one million Rohingya Muslims fled a crackdown by the Myanmar's military in 2017 in Rakhine state and are living in camps in Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh had sought India's support in handling the Rohingya issue by mounting pressure on Myanmar to take back the refugees. "The visit showed the commitment of both sides (India-Bangladesh) to take the relationship more forward," Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Riva Das Ganguly told a select media group on Tuesday night.
Shringla visited Dhaka in March last after assuming office of the Indian Foreign Secretary in January this year.