Bangladesh-US partnership dialogue
The first ever two-day meeting under the Joint Declaration of the Bangladesh-US Partnership Dialogue commenced in Washington on September 19 to bolster bilateral and regional cooperation between the two countries.
Foreign Secretary Mijarul Quayes led the 10-member Bangladesh delegation at the discussion with his counter-part the US Under -Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Wendy R Sherman.
Representatives from ministries of commerce, energy, home, Economic Relations Division, Board of Investment, Armed Forces Division and Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) were included in the Bangladesh delegation.
The composition of Bangladesh delegation indicated that besides security, enhanced US investment, the duty-free and quota-free export facility for apparels and inclusion of Bangladesh in the Millennium Challenge Account of the US would be underscored by Bangladesh.
For the US, the priority was security including counter-terrorism, speedy investigation for the death of the labour leader Aminul Islam and the future of Grameen Bank.
It was reported that the delegations held productive discussions on a wide range of bilateral and regional issues including development, civil society and governance; trade and investment; security and countering violent extremism; counter-narcotics, military-to-military engagement, UN peacekeeping efforts and humanitarian assistance, science and technology; women's empowerment and gender equality.
On the sidelines of the dialogue, the Bangladesh business delegation held talks with the US buyers and importers. It may be noted that Bangladesh's export earning to the US during 2010-11 stood $ 4.59 billion, constituting 25% of total exports and the balance of trade is heavily in favour of Bangladesh. It is reported that granting of duty-free goods is a matter of legislation by the Congress and the executive branch cannot do it.
According to the US, the signing of Trade and Investment Cooperation Framework Agreement (Ticfa) with Bangladesh is necessary for attracting US trade and investments. However, it is reported Bangladesh has reservations on the labour-issue and since the US would not soften its stance on the labour issue, Ticfa cannot yet be signed.
A media note issued by the US Department of State on September 21 said:
"Bangladesh's status as a moderate Muslim democracy and its flourishing civil society organisations are the foundations of our bilateral partnership….At the dialogue, we also discussed the importance of appointing a respected leader to serve as the new managing director of Grameen Bank."
At the meeting, the United States encouraged Bangladesh to continue to play an active role in regional integration, including efforts such as the New Silk Road, the Indo-Pacific Corridor and Indian Ocean organisations.
Bangladesh is an integral part of the New Silk Road envisioned by the US that will connect Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and China. The pivotal reasoning behind the New Silk Road is that economic incentives will reinforce political integration and long-term stabilisation.
The meeting in Washington has taken place in the backdrop of a Joint Declaration on "Bangladesh-US Partnership Dialogue" which was signed in Dhaka, on May 5, 2012 by Bangladesh foreign minister and the US Secretary of State, to which the prime minister of Bangladesh witnessed the signing.
The "Umbrella Declaration" aims to establish regular dialogues on bilateral cooperation on issues ranging from combating terrorism, transnational crimes to food security, education, climate change and child and maternal health. It also sets a forum of consultations between the two countries. Annual consultation is envisaged at the level of Foreign Secretary/Under Secretary and periodic consultations at the level of Foreign Ministers of two countries.
Political observers say Bangladesh has become hugely important for the US because of its geographical location. Bangladesh shares borders with India and reformist and resource-rich Myanmar. It is also a near neighbour to China and stands as a bridge between South Asia and South East Asia.
Bangladesh's direct access to open sea -- Indian Ocean -- is strategically important for the US since under a new U.S strategy, the Pentagon plans to shift its focus and resources away from Europe to Asia-Pacific. The US author Robert D. Kaplan in his book "Monsoon" (2011) states that it is in the Indian Ocean that the interests and influence of India, China and the United States are beginning to overlap and intersect. It is here, Kaplan says, that the 21st century's "global power dynamics will be revealed."
Bangladesh attracts not only as a large consumer market but also is suitable for US investment since 60% Bangladesh's economy is connected globally and the country has been included as "Next -11"potential major economies. The continuation of the same rating (Ba3) by the Moody's rating agency shows optimism about the country's macroeconomic stability and growth prospects, said Bangladesh Bank Governor Atiur Rahman.
The relationship between Bangladesh and the US has evolved from one of aid dependence to that of trade dependence. Bangladesh needs to develop with the US a truly modern partnership, one that is practical, open and engaged to meet the global and regional challenges. The strength of the relationship relies on the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances.
The visit of Foreign Secretary to Washington under the "Partnership Dialogue" will broaden and deepen bilateral relations with the US, an important development partner
While cooperating with the US, analysts maintain Bangladesh has to be mindful to the concerns of China and may balance its interests between the US and China and should not be perceived to be within the camp of the US against China or vice versa. 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.
Strategic or 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 Dialogue Agreement with India and China.
The next meeting at the Foreign Secretary level would be held in Dhaka in September 2013, officials concerned said.