Bangladesh and the EU- the "reliable and trusted partners”: implications of Sheikh Hasina’s Brussel visit

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s three-day state visit to Brussels to join the global gateway forum


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Bangladesh and the EU- the "reliable and trusted partners”: implications of Sheikh Hasina’s Brussel visit


Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s three-day state visit to Brussels to join the global gateway forum 2023 ended on 27 October.

 

Sheikh Hasina has made waves by participating in the summit especially considering the national election in the country is just months away. For Bangladesh, this extensive engagement in the summit has also paved the way for furthering ties with EU, a beacon of hope for a more interconnected and collaborative partnership.     

The first Global Gateway Forum took take place in Brussels on 25-26 October 2023 bringing together representatives of governments from the European Union, private sector, civil society, leading thinkers, financing institutions, and international organizations. The Global Gateway Forum, centered around the theme ‘Stronger Together through Sustainable Investment,’ highlighted the ongoing progress in transparent and high-quality investments in global connectivity, healthcare, education, and research systems. 

The Summit has provided a unique platform for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to meet and engage with world leaders, including European leaders on the sidelines of the forum. Hasinas meeting with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen offers an opportunity to reinforce further ties between the two nations.

Started in 1973, the bilateral relationship between the EU and Bangladesh has been of multifaceted areas of cooperation. In the last 50 years, Bangladesh has developed to be the “new Asian tiger” and EU has been supportive throughout this journey. In 2001 the EU-Bangladesh cooperation agreement laid the foundation of trade relations with the European Union that provided Bangladesh duty-free access to the Union market under the Everything But Arms (EBA) initiative. EBA played a crucial role for Bangladesh in becoming the European Union's largest trading partner -- today, more than half of Bangladesh's exports go to the EU, and the country recently even overtook China as the biggest exporter of garments into Europe. 

The pandemic, which hit neighboring countries hard, was well managed by Bangladesh. The vaccination rate, supported by a 250 million Euro loan for procuring Covid-19 vaccines, was among the highest in the region.

In 2022, Bangladesh-EU relations reached a new pinnacle with the first ever political dialogue being held between the two sides, cementing future areas of cooperation, such as Bangladesh's participation in the EU CRIMARIO project to improve maritime security and safety in the Wider Indian Ocean.

However, amidst controversy regarding its human rights violation accusations and EU’s concerns with Bangladesh’s democratic failure in creating election transparency, could have created strain in their relationship.

Bangladesh and EU has seen a rough patch regarding its observer mission for national election in Bangladesh, eventually EU cancelling its mission calling fund problems.

Yet Bangladesh’s invitation and participation in the first global gateway forum hosted by the EU carries significant implications for the country’s image building in global geopolitics along with reaffirming its affiliation with EU.

The summit provided an opportunity to move beyond these differences and focus on shared goals and interests. This interaction can create a more positive atmosphere for future interactions and cooperation between the two nations. 

The bilateral meeting between Sheikh Hasina with Executive Vice President of the EC and European Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis can be seen as a sign of restoration of diplomatic relations meeting. It has definitely steered economic cooperation in Bangladesh’s way through EU.

During the first day of the summit, the HPM delivered a speech where she praised EU for launching the Global Gateway initiative. She also said, “For Bangladesh, the EU is our trusted trade, development, and humanitarian partner. We have fruitful cooperation in security, climate change, and human mobility. Our shared values and commitments remain at the heart of our engagements with the EU.”

During this visit, the Bangladesh government and EC signed five different grant agreements of 70 million Euros on Bangladesh's Social sectors. After the bilateral meeting, a loan support agreement of 350 million Euros on the renewable energy sector was signed between the Bangladesh government's Economic Relations Department (ERD) and European Investment Bank. 

Another 12 million Euros grant agreement between the Bangladesh government and EC were also signed for Bangladesh's renewable energy sector. A grant agreement of 45 million Euros for Bangladesh's renewable energy sector was also signed between the European Commission and European Investment Bank. The operation is expected to contribute to the installation of an estimated 750 MWp of new renewable energy capacity in Bangladesh.

HPM and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen also launched the negotiations on a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement to expand and develop the relationship between the EU and Bangladesh.

Calling for an extension of the Generalized System of Preferences Plus (GSP+) for Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina emphasized the importance of six additional years of favorable business conditions from the European Union (EU) to aid the nation’s journey toward prosperity following its LDC graduation in her speech. She also thanked the EU for its humanitarian assistance for the 1.2 million Rohingyas being temporarily sheltered by Bangladesh. EU announced an additional €10.5 million in assistance for the Rohingyas.

PM Hasina also said in her speech that EU and BD has renewed commitment to promote workers’ rights as well as safe and regular migration through future partnership focusing more on strategic elements.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also appealed to the global leaders to take steps to end wars, conflicts, and arms race to build a better future. "Connectivity is the lifeline for peace and progress. We need to prepare better for future crises," she said.

 

The Global Gateway Forum served as a platform to display the delivery of the G7 Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment. Bangladesh's participation in this influential summit underscores its growing significance in the international arena. When the world is marred in nationalist wars, Sheikh Hasina's participation in different global summits this year including the global gateway forum underscores Bangladesh's commitment to multilateralism. It shows that Bangladesh values international cooperation in an interconnected world.

 

 

Written by S.A. Korobi

 

S.A. Korobi, is a Student of Peace and Conflict Studies (MSS), Dhaka, University, Bangladesh


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