Bangladesh-US Dialogue

Bangladesh-US Dialogue

Ms. Wendy R. Sherman, Under-Secretary for Political Affairs, accompanied by more than ten officials, held a comprehensive partnership dialogue with her counterpart Foreign Secretary, M. Shahidul Haque in Dhaka on May 26-27.

The first dialogue partnership meeting took place in Washington in September last year. Mr. Haque met Ms. Sherman in Washington on 14th March of this year.

Partnership Dialogue is based on long-term shared strategic vision, based on convergence of strategic interests, mutual trust, confidence in each other and respect for each other’s strategic sensitivities. The US concluded Strategic/Partnership Dialogue Agreement with India and China.

The Dhaka meeting took place under the framework of the “Bangladesh-US Partnership Dialogue” signed in Dhaka, on 5th May, 2012 by Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. Dipu Moni and the former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

The agreement aims to establish regular discussions on bilateral cooperation on issues ranging from combating terrorism, transnational crimes to food security, trade, education, climate change and child and maternal health at the level of Foreign Secretary and periodic consultations at the level of Foreign Ministers of two countries.

Ms. Sherman met Bangladesh Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. She had a roundtable meeting with labour leaders, owners and buyers of the garment industry.

Sherman was irked by the hartal called on the day of her arrival (26th May) by BNP because she had to revise her programme schedule, cancelling a meeting with the leader of the opposition of parliament and Chairperson of BNP, Begum Khaleda Zia, a former Prime Minister.

It is reported that topics among others from Bangladesh side were:
• Duty and quota-free access of Bangladesh’s products including garments to the US market,
• Continuation of the Generalised System of Preference (GSP) facility in the US
• Bangladesh’s greater role in the UN peacekeeping
• The Trade and Investment Cooperation Framework Agreement (TICFA)
• Increased US assistance for development programmes in Bangladesh in food security and renewable energy and climate change

The US, on the other hand, reportedly raised with Bangladesh side the following issues among others:

• Rights of garment workers through trade unionism
• Improved working conditions of garment workers including safety in factories and possible US assistance in this sector
• Human rights record and good governance in Bangladesh
• The on-going political tension and the need for fair, free, credible election with participation of all political parties
• Regional Security, counter-terrorism and extremism
• Regional Integration, such as Asia-Pacific corridor transportation system

At the end of the meeting a MOU was signed on strengthening of cooperation on counter-terrorism.

A business delegation which accompanied the US State Department officials held a separate meeting with the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

It was pointed out that despite being a LDC, Bangladeshi garments have to pay about 15% duties to the US. It is reported that Bangladesh pays more to the US as duties than it gets aid from the US. Of late these tariffs have yielded Washington more than $600 million a year.

If Washington provides Bangladesh the duty-free and quota-free status enjoyed by more than 30 other “Least Developed Countries,” the U.S. would at a stroke contribute more to economic security and women’s empowerment than it has with years of aid shipments.

According to American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh (AmCham), the total investment by the US entrepreneurs is $1.35 billion by end of 2012. There is an opportunity to invest more in telecommunications, gas, IT software and leather sectors. Large scope for investment exists in agro-based industries and food processing and canning in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s economic and social development including political stability, rooting out extremism and promotion of regional economic integration are vital to American regional and global interests Furthermore, Bangladesh’s strategic location together with an access to the open sea via the Bay of Bengal is important to the US.

Bangladesh government since 2009 has successfully handled the threat from the terrorist elements on the soil of Bangladesh and as part of the efforts, the government has continued to address the problems of money laundering and weak border- controls to ensure that Bangladesh does not become a terrorist safe-haven.

Bangladesh is emerging as an economically vibrant country where businesspeople have been innovative and imaginative in pushing the economic growth consistently above 6% through decades. There has been also a change in the economy as 60% Bangladesh’s current economy is connected with global economy. It is also a good market for US products as the number of middle class with disposable incomes is rising.

Bangladesh could be an integral part of the New Silk Road envisioned by the US that will connect Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and China. The pivotal reasoning behind the New Silk Road is that economic incentives will reinforce political integration and long-term stabilization

The “Partnership Dialogue” will broaden and deepen bilateral relations with the US, an important development partner. Over the next five years from 2012, the US is committed to invest $1 billion to help Bangladesh improve the lives of citizens, especially children.

While cooperating with the US, analysts maintain Bangladesh has to be mindful to the possible concerns of China. It is wrong to suggest that Bangladesh has to choose between US and China. The partnership with US is not at the expense of China. .

Bangladesh can have friendly relations with both countries. Asean has played a model role in balancing their benefits between the US and China. While Asean is tied with China through Free Trade Agreement, they also seek security assurances from the US.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva

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