Economic diplomacy and foreign policy | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 28, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 28, 2013

Economic diplomacy and foreign policy

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Conceptually, diplomacy and foreign policy are interlinked. The latter is what a country does; the former is how it does it. Diplomacy may thus be assumed to be a dependent variable of foreign policy. Economic diplomacy focuses on a country's economic relations with other countries to put its foreign policy goals into operation. How a country manages its economic diplomacy relies on how it oversees its foreign policy objectives. Thus, nexus between economic diplomacy and foreign policy is irrefutable. How Bangladesh's economic diplomacy has been reflected in its foreign policy is something to be looked into.
Since 1971, Bangladesh foreign policy has gone through several phases; each decade indicates a phase. In its first decade, foreign policy focused on building overseas relations not only with the then politico-economic superpowers and wealthy Arab countries but also with the international organisations in order to receive foreign aid. Though goods and services trade had started modestly, foreign policy during this phase required pursuing diplomacy of recognition and was directed by the realities of the country's economic survival, hence the engagement in aid diplomacy.
Bangladesh's developmental needs guided its foreign policy in the 1980s,and looked to further the country's economic relationship with the West, the East and the Middle East to boost its manpower export and trade, and obtain sufficient foreign aid. With the enthusiasm for regionalism within South Asia, this phase was an attempt to consolidate initiatives of Bangladesh's foreign policy originated in the 1970s.
The third phase of Bangladesh foreign policy, with the revival of democracy, aimed at collaboration within South Asia and strengthening of relations with Washington, Tokyo, Beijing and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. The key goals of such initiatives were to increase Bangladesh's goods and services export, attract inflow of foreign direct investment (FDI), get overseas development assistance (ODA) and join as many regional economic groupings or joint ventures as possible.
Economic diplomacy -- which was linked to foreign policy in the late 1990s -- focused on Southeast Asia with a “Look East” policy in the twenty-first century. In this phase, foreign policy was extended to Latin America as well as Africa with a “Look Africa” policy. Although a thorough cost-benefit analysis is yet to be done before pursuing new foreign policy directions, the two policies were geared towards “trade creation” and “trade diversification” as well as “investment creation” and “investment diversification.”
Indo-centric aspects cannot be separated from Bangladesh foreign policy. Since independence of Bangladesh, it has been vibrant with a Framework Agreement on Cooperation and development between Bangladesh and India. India also granted a $1 billion loan for Bangladesh's developmental needs. A significant amount of the loan, with stiff terms and conditions and procurement complexities, is yet to be disbursed. How our economic diplomacy and foreign policy address the issue remains to be seen. Another key concern for the fifth phase of foreign policy is cooperation between development partners (such as the WB, ADB, JICA, etc.) and the government of Bangladesh (GoB).
Bangladesh foreign policy, during its different phases, has made attempts to redirect focus from aid to trade, though destinations for exports are yet to be diversified. On the contrary, promotion of Bangladesh with a positive image of the country as a destination for FDI inflow is far from satisfactory. Likewise, bargaining between donors and the GoB on aid effectiveness and its disbursement continues.
Some critics argue that the functions of the policy makers and foreign policy makers and of the makers of economic diplomacy are not coordinated. Even Bangladesh's embassies, consulates or Diaspora are not properly guided by Bangladesh foreign policy and economic diplomacy. Lack of adequate coordination among the actors is a key concern for Bangladesh's economic diplomacy.
In contrast, some positivists argue that Bangladesh has been practicing economic diplomacy and, since independence, reflection of economic diplomacy on its foreign policy has been evident. They cite the following to support their the views: Bangladesh's increasing percentage in world trade, number of bilateral investment treaties and preferential free-trade agreements signed, trade fairs and exhibitions, investment promotion road-shows, etc. In order to utilise the multilateral regime, they say that Bangladesh foreign policy has to prioritise its economic promotion, which requires practical functioning of instruments and actors of the country's economic diplomacy.
Among the instruments, image building, country branding, globalising Bangladesh's success stories (such as Grameen model of microcredit, social business, etc.), and institutionalising public diplomacy in the country's foreign policy are important to project a positive picture of Bangladesh abroad. Associating actively with global financial organisations is one of the key instruments of economic diplomacy and an important foreign policy objective. Bangladesh foreign policy has to be guided towards these directions.
Who are the major actors in economic diplomacy? What are the likely instruments of economic diplomacy? At what levels has economic diplomacy been pursued? What are the indicators of the extent of economic diplomacy? Why is economic diplomacy important? What are the priority issues of economic diplomacy, and how are they being handled? What are the major problems in economic diplomacy, and how can they be faced?
Bangladesh's economic diplomacy will need to evolve with the issues in the days to come. This calls for improved inter-ministerial coordination and cooperation. An important point, therefore, is to re-establish the overarching responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), because it is the principal institution of economic diplomacy and foreign policy of Bangladesh. MoFA has to open its door to qualified and competent people from all professions, and the diplomats have to be well trained and truly professional in diplomacy.

The writer is Research Fellow, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS).
E-mail: jasim_biiss@yahoo.com

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