We're Live Bangla Saturday, February 04, 2023

New horizon in US-Bangladesh ties visible with Biden administration

ISSUE-1-BD-10-02-2021

Bangladesh's bilateral ties with the United States are wide-ranging and have historical roots. The Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman aptly emphasised the enormous importance of bilateral relationship with the US when he visited the country in October 1974 and met President Gerald Ford. Bangladesh continues to follow Bangabandhu's foreign policy principle of "friendship to all, malice to none"; and thereby maintains a cooperative and comprehensive economic relationship with countries in the neighbourhood and beyond. Bangladesh has been a leader in regional cooperation and connectivity initiatives, and we welcome US involvement in existing and new initiatives. We will continue to pursue economic diplomacy pro-actively with neighbouring, regional and global players, including and particularly with the US.

Our bilateral relations with the US are based on the strong foundation of our shared values of democratic principles, peace, prosperity and personal freedom. The US has been one of our most reliable development partners, and has contributed generously to the country's socio-economic progress. The relations between the two countries have been flourishing since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina formed the Government in 1996, and more so since 2009. Besides the annual Partnership Dialogue and the Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement (TICFA), we are holding regular dialogues on a wide range of issues, including trade, investment, security, military and counter-terrorism.

The new US administration appears to be more supportive to the causes of the developing world, including in areas like climate change, trade facilitation, Covid-19 response and migrants. Thus, our expectations from the Biden administration are indeed reasonably higher. Under the visionary policies of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh is fully confident of further strengthening its ties with all development partners to facilitate economic and political cooperation and people-to-people ties. Regular bilateral visits and political level engagements between the two countries at the highest level will elevate the Bangladesh-US partnership. The following are some of the major outlooks related to Bangladesh's upcoming engagement with the new US administration.

 First, while we are thankful for the US' principled stand and steadfast humanitarian and diplomatic support to Bangladesh in dealing with the Rohingya crisis since August 2017, we also firmly believe that it is essential to take an effective and well-calibrated intervention on the part of the international community to convince Myanmar to create a safe and conducive environment in Rakhine state for the dignified return of 1.1 million Rohingyas to their homeland. The Rohingya issue was created by Myanmar, and the solution also lies with them. The good news is that there are indications that the new US administration will look into the issue of genocide in Rakhine and hopefully will proactively take action for their safe return.

Secondly, as we all know, Bangladesh is committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and is also moving forward to achieve its national development agenda, articulated in Vision 2021 and Vision 2041. Our growth trajectory over the last decade has been very impressive, but lately the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed progress and hindered SDG implementation, not just in Bangladesh but across the globe. Therefore, Bangladesh underscores the necessity to strengthen further bilateral and multilateral cooperation and take collective actions to tackle the evolving dimensions of health, as well as the economic crisis, during this pandemic as well as in the post-pandemic period. The collaborative efforts of our two friendly countries have already produced some noteworthy outcomes. The supplying of 6.5 million high standard PPE by Bangladesh to the United States in the shortest possible time during the pandemic is a great example of this cooperation.

Third, the issue of the deportation of Rashed Chowdhury, a convicted fugitive and killer of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, has remained pending on the US side for more than a decade. We have requested the US government to speed up the return of Rashed Chowdhury. In light of the two countries' shared spirit of establishing justice and the rule of law, I believe that the new US administration should look into this matter seriously. In fact, this could be a game changer in the Bangladesh-US partnership. We also have an extradition treaty pending with the US side for a long time.

Fourth, we believe that trade and investment can be one of the strongest bonds of partnership between Bangladesh and the US, Bangladesh's single largest export destination. With an upward trend of export and import, the total trade volume with the US jumped to USD 4.1 billion in 2009 from USD 1.5 billion in 1996, reflecting a 59.4 percent increase. Since then, the figure shows an increasing trend, amounting to USD 6.4 billion in 2014 and USD 9 billion in 2019. Despite the pandemic, until mid-2020, the trade figure with the US was USD 3,405.4 million. In 2018-19, Bangladeshi exports to the US were worth USD 6.8 billion. Now, we need to diversify our products portfolio away from single items. We already have our traditional strength in the RMG industry. In fact, despite high import tariffs, nearly 15.6 percent on average, Bangladesh is the second largest apparel exporter to the US, after China. Due to the pandemic, to assist hard-hit US consumers of garments, the US may put a moratorium on tariffs on Bangladesh exports for a period of three years. We are also ready to commence free trade agreement negotiations with the US.

Fifth, Bangladesh reviewed its post-Covid-19 recovery strategy to expand domestic demand through public investments in infrastructure and service delivery to create job opportunities, and to improve the rate of foreign direct investment into export diversifying sectors. Bangladesh has emerged as a lucrative destination of foreign direct investment today, and is keen to operationalise its proposed 100 Economic Zones and 28 high-tech parks, with foreign investments from public and private sectors.

Bangladesh welcomes US investment in these Economic Zones, including through the relocation process from China. We believe that US support will continue for the safe and appropriate use of science and technology, including biotechnology, to help meet the agricultural challenges and consumer needs of the 21st century. In fact, Bangladesh-US technical cooperation has grown substantially over the last decade, although its full potential is yet to be realised. More scientific cooperation between research and academic institutions of the two countries, as well as technical capacity building of government and private institutions, are necessary. Our two countries already have close liaisons concerning global peacekeeping efforts. The US government could take some seasonal workers from Bangladesh to work in their agricultural sectors as well.

Sixth, Bangladesh remains committed to promoting connectivity in the region. The concept of a free and open Indo-Pacific would help Bangladesh promote the Blue Economy and connectivity, bring improvements of the investment climate, and strengthen measures against terrorism and other organised crimes in maritime spaces. We request US investment in the infrastructural development of Bangladesh to enhance the effectiveness of the Indo-Pacific strategies. We have joined the Belt and Road Initiative of China from the same aspiration of receiving investment in our infrastructure development, aimed at the socio-economic development of our people.

Finally, climate change is an immediate and growing threat to the whole world. Bangladesh has been recognised worldwide as one of the most vulnerable countries in this regard. It is a matter of relief that President Joe Biden has already signed the Executive Order to rejoin the Paris Agreement. I believe that the contribution of the US will help Bangladesh to fight against climate change as the current President of the 48-member Climate Vulnerable Forum.

There are reasons to be hopeful about the steadily growing Bangladesh-US relations, which are expected to achieve newer heights during the Biden administration. There are so many avenues to be explored, and Bangladesh is keen to reap the full potential. We look forward to continuing our critical work together to further strengthen our enduring relationship, address mutual challenges, and build on the progress and prosperity we have made on so many fronts. Creating a greater consciousness and bringing together all the stakeholders to strengthen Bangladesh-US bilateral relation under a common platform is important. I always believe that, apart from G2G engagements, intense people-to-people contact is always beneficial for bilateral relations. For example, the people of the US assisted us in our Liberation movement. In this connection, as over half a million Bangladeshi-origin citizens live in the US, this large Bangladeshi diaspora can also play a constructive role.

 

(Dr. A K Abdul Momen, MP is Foreign Minister of the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh.)