While Canada lauds Bangladesh for sheltering Rohingyas, it remains concerned about a lack of democratic space and human rights issues in the country, said Canadian High Commissioner to Dhaka Benoit Préfontaine yesterday.
“We note that there are human rights issues which we do raise with the government time to time. We remain concerned about a lack of democratic space in the country, enforced disappearances, and workers’ rights,” he said.
He made the remarks at a meet the press organised by Diplomatic Correspondents Association of Bangladesh (DCAB) at Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies.
The diplomat also expressed concerns over the lack of media freedom, saying there are areas that the media report well, but there are other areas where it is difficult to report.
“Journalists must have the ability to report facts freely without fear of punishment,” he said, adding that Canada will stand up for freedom of expression and freedom of press.
“Promoting media freedom is a key component of Canada’s advocacy to strengthen the rules-based international order, democratic resilience, and respect for the right to freedom of opinion and expression,” he said.
The diplomat said relationship between Canada and Bangladesh is based on shared values of democracy, good governance, human rights, pluralism and freedom of speech. The relations will continue to grow through various ways including development assistance, bilateral trade and exchange of education.
Since 1972, Canada has provided over $4 billion as development assistance to Bangladesh and is proud to have contributed to Bangladesh’s significant success in reducing poverty and meeting Millennium Development Goals, he added.
The Canadian high commissioner said his country recognises immense generosity that Bangladesh has demonstrated in welcoming Rohingyas, who fled military atrocities since August 2017.
He said Canada is working both in diplomatic levels -- at the OIC, ASEAN, G7 and Commonwealth -- for ensuring dignified repatriation of Rohingyas and holding the perpetrators of atrocities accountable.
“The real solution to the crisis lies in Myanmar, but as long as they stay here, they should be taken care of,” he said, noting the country has provided 86.8 million Canadian dollars to meet humanitarian needs in Cox’s Bazar.
Préfontaine said Canada is seeking ways to expand trade with Bangladesh. For the first time, Canada has created a senior trade commissioner’s position in Bangladesh, specialised in promoting exchanges in the areas of trade, investment, education and science and technology.
He said according to world rankings, Bangladesh is not an easy country in terms of doing business, but there are significant opportunities. “We are telling Canadians that they should not overlook the Bangladesh market,” the diplomat said.
Bilateral trade that was worth 600.5 million Canadian dollars in 2004 went up to 2.36 billion in 2016.
Bangladesh export of garments to Canada is worth 1.58 billion Canadian dollars. Bangladesh has opportunity to export leather and jute products. Canada exports mostly wheat, pulse, fertiliser and aerospace products and technology to Bangladesh.
Préfontaine said while he tells the Canadian private sector to explore businesses in Bangladesh, they ask about the infrastructure, gas and transport system.
“I want to increase exchanges between Canadian and Bangladeshi schools and universities. This should include students, teachers and researchers,” he said.
DCAB President Raheed Ejaz and General Secretary Nurul Islam also spoke.