Switzerland Ambassador to Bangladesh Rene Holenstein has emphasised improving investment climate in Bangladesh as he sees economic opportunities in the country.
He is in Bangladesh with three priorities, Holenstein said in an interview with news agency UNB.
He said his first priority is to strengthen bilateral, political and diplomatic relations with Bangladesh.
His second priority is to develop cooperation with the Bangladesh government and people to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) with their development support.
Holenstein will also work to strengthen bilateral economic relations between the two countries and help the Bangladesh economy grow. Switzerland has been a committed and longstanding partner of Bangladesh introducing innovative ideas and solutions over the years.
“Our journey started 45 years ago with humanitarian assistance.”
The ambassador said the two countries established deep political, cultural and economic relations slowly and steadily.
Holenstein, an author of a number of books, said the economic relations between the two countries, in general, has developed positively over the last few years.
“Our trade has more than doubled since 2010. Major Swiss companies are currently present in Bangladesh. This is very encouraging. It's also encouraging to see more and more SMEs are coming to Bangladesh.”
Asked about Swiss investment in Bangladesh, he said they saw a 17-percent rise in investment last year.
The trade volume stood at $600 million last year with a year-on-year 16 percent growth, he said. “I'm fully aware that our trade relations are not yet at optimum level. We can contribute much more.”
He said Switzerland can promote innovative technologies, particularly green technologies, and this will be a contribution to Bangladesh's development.
Responding to a question on investment climate, he said, “Yes, I've heard some concerns. However, I'm impressed while talking to businesspeople, especially representatives of Swiss companies, about their positive experiences. Many people are optimistic about economic opportunities in Bangladesh.”
“Of course, there're some issues that require further improvement,” Holenstein said mentioning infrastructure and administrative procedures. The ambassador, however, expressed satisfaction over the security measures taken for the foreigners and foreign investors in the country.
Holenstein emphasised skills development, improving local governance and ensuring a safe migration system in Bangladesh with assurance of providing Swiss support in these areas.
About the next national election in Bangladesh, Holenstein said, “As a friend of Bangladesh, I hope, the election will be fair, transparent and inclusive.”
He said a favourable and safe condition is needed to be in place so that everybody takes part in the election.
“The election commission has been doing a lot of consultations with political parties, civil society and private sectors. We welcome this inclusive approach.”
About the Rohingya crisis, he said, “We're very much concerned about the humanitarian situation.”
Holenstein, who has visited the Rohingya camps twice since his arrival in Dhaka, praised Bangladesh government for its generosity and accepting so many people. “People's solidarity is also something extraordinary.”
The Swiss ambassador said the main goal is to make sure that these people can return safely and with dignity and voluntarily.
“We haven't yet achieved that goal. We'll continue our efforts. We're absolutely beside Bangladesh.”
Given the extent of this humanitarian crisis, Switzerland has decided to increase its financial contribution to 8 million Swiss Franc. Almost 1.8 million foreign nationals live in Switzerland, which is 24.3 percent of the total population.
The ambassador said Switzerland has always been an immigration-friendly country and many international organisations are there where foreigners are working.
With more than 613,000 Rohingyas now in Bangladesh, international agencies and partners are working on several fronts to support and protect them to avoid second wave of disaster – the outbreak of various diseases.
Holenstein, who speaks German, French, Spanish, English and Russian, said he is a great fan of rock music.
“I love music, particularly rock music. I love Bangladeshi music, too,” he said appreciating the performance of Bangladeshi band Chirkut. “I loved that kind of music. I used to play drums. I can sing.”
He said he is impressed by the eagerness of Bangladeshi people to learn, innovate and try new things.