Open sky agreement to elevate BD-US relations to new height

_By Raquib Siddiqi01 Oct, 2020 | 825 Views|-+
Dhaka : Bangladesh and the United States of America have formally signed an air transport agreement on September 30 and with that, the bilateral relations between the two countries is expected to reach a new height.

Mohibul Haque, Senior Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism and Earl R Miller, US Ambassador to Bangladesh, signed the agreement on behalf of their respective governments at the conference room of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism. This bilateral Agreement establishes a modern civil aviation relationship with Bangladesh, consistent with US Open Skies international aviation policy. It includes unrestricted capacity and frequency of services, open route rights, a liberal charter regime and open code-sharing opportunities. The Agreement entered into force upon signing.

According to US State Department, "In support of the US Indo-Pacific strategy (IPS), this Agreement with Bangladesh will further expand our strong economic and commercial partnership, promote people-to-people ties and create new opportunities for airlines, travel companies and customers. Air carriers can provide more affordable, convenient, and efficient air services to travellers and shippers, promoting tourism and commerce. The Agreement commits both governments to high standards of aviation safety and security. It also represents a step forward for the liberalisation of civil aviation in the Indo-Pacific."

Impact

The formal agreement was signed in light of a primary agreement signed between the two countries in 2013. The agreement will pave the way to resume direct air connectivity between Dhaka and different cities of the US. Both Bangladesh and USA will be able to operate flights between the two countries through code sharing, according to the agreement. As per the agreement and on the basis of open-air policy, both countries can nominate any number of airlines as their designated carriers to operate flights between the two countries. The designated airlines of each country will be able to operate any number of passenger and cargo flights - by any aircraft - between the two countries, under the open sky policy (third and fourth).

The designated airlines of the two countries will be able to operate any passenger and cargo aircraft from any intermediate or remote point under the open sky policy (fifth).

First step

It may be noted that the agreement would be the first step towards operating flights to the US. But, before that, the airports in Bangladesh need to be upgraded as per FAA requirements. Bangla-desh will work for the development of necessary infrastructure and manpower reform, including airport security activities.

The US is the home to an estimated 500,000 Bangla-deshis. The accord will help Bangladesh's national flag carrier Biman revive its Dhaka-New York route, which was suspended in 2006 on commercial ground, but could not resume so far, because of down gradation of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA), Dhaka by US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

It is learnt that work is underway to achieve the Category-1 status for Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, the gateway to Bangladesh by air, to start direct flights between the two countries. The US Federal Aviation Authority would inspect and audit Bangladesh's airports, especially Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, after the signing of the agreement. Bangladeshi airlines will be able to operate flights to the US considering there is a green signal from the Federal Aviation Authority.

Landmark step

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Md Mahbub Ali, State Minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism, said the agreement, signed between Bangladesh and the United States is a landmark step towards mutual cooperation in the aviation sector between of the two countries. Direct air communication will play a positive role in all areas of cooperation, including trade and commerce between the two countries.

"Today's air communication agreement is a testament to strengthen the existing friendship between Bangladesh and the United States," he said and added, "We hope that by fulfilling all the conditions, we will soon be able to establish direct air communication with the United States."

Earl R Miller said the aviation agreement would further enhance the friendship between the two countries. The introduction of direct air communication will give a new dimension to the people-to-people relations between the two countries. The agreement will have a positive impact on tourism, including trade, he said.

Air Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman, Chairman of Bangla-desh Civil Aviation Authority, Sabbir Ahmed Chowdhury, Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Janendra Nath Sarkar, Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, were also present at the signing ceremony, among others.

Open sky policy

Since 1992 the United States has pursued an "Open Skies" policy designed to eliminate government intervention in airline decision-making about routes, capacity and pricing in international markets.

The Department of State, working with the Departments of Transportation and Commerce, negotiates agreements with foreign governments that provide the framework for commercial air service. The most liberal of those civil air transport agreements, called "Open Skies" agreements, have provided the opportunity for expansion of international passenger and cargo flights to and from the United States. They promote economic growth by increasing travel and trade, enhancing productivity, and spurring high-quality job opportunities. Open Skies agreements do so by eliminating government intervention in the commercial decisions of air carriers about routes, capacity and pricing, thereby freeing the carriers to provide more affordable, convenient and efficient air service for consumers and shippers.

America's Open Skies policy has gone hand-in-hand with US airline globalisation. By allowing US air carriers unlimited market access to our partners' markets, as well as rights to fly to points in between and beyond, Open Skies agreements provide maximum operational flexibility worldwide for US airlines.

The United States has reciprocal Open Skies air transportation agreement in place with over 125 partners.

Current BD-US relations

Bangladesh is a major American ally in South Asia. The two countries have extensive cooperation on matters of regional and global security, counter terrorism and climate change. Bangladesh has been a key participant in the Obama administration's main international development initiatives, including food security, healthcare and the environment. A strategic dialogue agreement was signed between the two countries in 2012. Marcia Bernicat, then US Ambassador to Bangla-desh, in 2015 described relations as "vibrant, multi-faceted and indispensable".

US assistance to BD

The United States has invested billions of dollars to improve the lives of Bangladeshis and Bangla-desh, is the largest recipient of US assistance in Asia aside from Afghanistan and Pakistan. US assistance fosters engagement with the Government of Bangladesh - helping to grow more food, build more roads and train more skilled teachers, health care providers and soldiers. In addition, the United States is the largest donor to the Rohingya refugee crisis response, providing humanitarian support to over one million refugees from Myanmar along with host communities. During the 2020 COVID-19 crisis, the United States has provided over USD 36 million in assistance to date.

Bilateral economic relations

Bangladesh has achieved decades of impressive economic growth. The United States is a partner in Bangladesh's development success. Its enviable growth and openness to US private sector investment makes this market a standout opportunity for US firms. Bangladesh exported USD 5.5 billion worth of products, primarily apparel and textiles, to the United States in 2018, making the United States the single largest market for Bangladeshi goods in the world.

In turn, US exports to Bangladesh, which consisted largely of agricultural products (grains and cotton) and machinery, amounted to USD 2.1 billion, up 43 per cent from the previous year, but still resulting in a US trade deficit of USD 4 billion. The United States is also currently the largest source of foreign direct investment in Bangladesh. At the end of 2017, the United States accounted for 23 per cent of the stock of foreign direct investment in Bangladesh. Chevron is the single largest foreign investor, producing some 55 per cent of Bangladesh's domestic natural gas. US companies are the largest foreign investors in Bangladesh, with USD 3.4 billion in investments as of 2018, which accounts for 20 per cent of total FDI stock in Bangladesh. The vast majority of these investments are in the oil and gas, banking and insurance, and power generation sectors.

Bangladesh and the United States belong to a number of the same international organisations, including the United Nations, ASEAN Regional Forum, International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisation.

Defense cooperation

The United States is one of Bangladesh's principal strategic military allies. American defense cooperation is seen as a counterweight to the regional powers, India and Russia. Joint exercises are held on a regular basis, particularly in the Bay of Bengal. The US Pacific Command maintains regular engagements with the Bangladesh Armed Forces. The US has also helped set up the elite SWADS marine unit in the Bangladesh Navy, which is modeled on American and South Korean special forces. Bangladesh is the world's largest contributor to UN peacekeeping. The United States has been a vital supporter of Bangladeshi peacekeeping engagements.

Education and culture

There were 7,496 Bangladeshi students in US universities in 2018, making Bangladesh 24th in the world among countries sending students to the US, and 10th in the world for sending Graduate level students. The American Embassy in Bangladesh operates and supports several Education Consultancy Centers in Dhaka, Chattogram, Sylhet and Rajshahi. Besides American Center, US Embassy also supports the Edward M Kennedy Center for Public Service and Arts and operates Archer K Blood Library in Dhaka.

On the cultural front, Sisimpur, a USAID-funded Bangladeshi version of Sesame Street, is the most watched children's programme on Bangladeshi television.

To boost the relations further, Stephen Biegun, Deputy Secretary of State of United States, is paying a visit to Bangladesh from October 14-16 and meeting senior government officials to strengthen the United States-Bangladesh partnership. The dispatching of such a senior diplomat reflects the importance of Bangladesh with respect to IPS.

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