New Delhi: With Bangladesh being the central pillar of India's Neighbourhood First policy, Dhaka is New Delhi's largest trade partner in South Asia and bilateral trade between the two countries grew at an unprecedented rate of 14 per cent during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Tuesday.

Speaking at a special Ministry of External Affairs briefing, the Foreign Secretary also said India is the most important economic partner of Bangladesh.

"Bangladesh is a central pillar of our Neighbourhood First policy. It is also the relationship where this policy intersects the element of our Act East policy. India today, is Bangladesh's most important economic partner and Bangladesh is India's largest trade partner in South Asia. India is the second-largest trade partner of Bangladesh," he added.

Recalling Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Bangladesh earlier this year, Foreign Secretary said that "It is the only country that is visited by PM Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind and Foreign Minister S Jaishakar.

"In March, our Prime Minister paid a State visit to Bangladesh to join the Triveni of celebration. It is the measure of importance that we accord to our relations with Bangladesh that it is the destination of the first post-pandemic visits both President and Prime Minister. It is also the only country visited by the PM, President and Foreign Minister in the short period of time in the recent past," he said.

The Foreign Secretary said: "India and Bangladesh jointly commemorated Maitree Diwas on December 6. It is jointly celebrated with New Delhi and Dhaka and also in capitals all over the world. Both Prime Ministers issued special messages on this occasion."

"Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, bilateral trade was at an unprecedented rate of 14 per cent from 9.46 billion US dollars in 2019 to 10.78 billion dollars in 2021," he said.

Shringla also said that Bangladesh is also one of our most important development partners both in terms of value and range of cooperation. "We extend of our third of our total global development assistance under lines of credit to Bangladesh."

"In addition, we have been extending various projects to bring direct benefits to the local community. India Bangladesh is better connected than ever before. Road, rail, air, river and coastal connectivity is increasing. Multi-model transports that utilise more than one of these channels is today very much possible."

"Joint energy space is steadily emerging, our electricity grids are interconnected from east and west with more than 1160 megawatts of powers way across from India and Bangladesh," he added.

President Kovind will embark on a three-day State visit to Bangladesh from tomorrow. The visit is in the context of the 50th Victory Day celebrations in Dhaka which Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid has invited Kovind to represent India as a guest of honour.

President Kovind is scheduled to depart for Delhi on December 17.