Bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Germany
THE Centre for Foreign Affairs Studies (C-FAS), a foreign policy think-tank in Dhaka, hosted a farewell lunch for the departing German Ambassador H.E. Frank Meyke on July 14 at a local hotel. The chairperson of the C-FAS, Ashfaqur Rahman, who was once Bangladesh ambassador to Germany, and German Ambassador Meyke highlighted the salient features of bilateral relations between the two countries.
Germany is an economic power as well as an important member of the European Union (EU). It is the largest economy in the European Union.
Germany is a reliable partner of Bangladesh in development cooperation. Since independence, German churches and numerous non-governmental organisations (NGOs) made tremendous efforts to promote the social and economic development of Bangladesh. German assistance to Bangladesh is received in the form of development efforts, trade and cultural cooperation.
Both countries have a long and successful bilateral relationship on most international issues. Germany always emphasises the democratic characteristics, governance issues and development process of Bangladesh.
After establishment of diplomatic relations on February 4, 1972, the bilateral relations between the two countries began to grow steadily both in depth and dimension.
Between 1972 and the end of 2005, Bangladesh received approximately € 2.4 billion in commitments from Germany as part of bilateral financial and technical cooperation, in addition of the funds provided by Germany to the the European Union, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the UN. These funds stood at €4.4 billion, or Tk.39,600 crores.
Since 1978, all German funds provided as part of government level cooperation have been in the form of non-repayable grants.
Bangladesh is a priority partner country of German Development Cooperation (GTZ). By an agreement between both the government adopted in May 2004, the activities of the GTZ focus on three priority areas -- healthcare including family planning, economic reform and development of the market system through promotion of private sector, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and renewable energies.
Among the other ongoing projects, the promotion of legal and social empowerment of women in Bangladesh can be mentioned. The sustainable economic development program of GTZ contributes to the competitiveness of the readymade garments (RMG) sector, as well as other export-oriented sectors like silk, leather and jute.
A German-Bangladeshi investment promotion and protection agreement has been in force since 1986, and a bilateral double taxation accord since 1993.
In trade with Germany, Bangladesh has for years recorded a large surplus. Germany is the second largest export market of Bangladesh after the US. In 2008, the volume of bilatateral trade reached almost €2 billion, and overwhelmingly in Bangladesh's favour.
In the first months, Bangladesh exports to Germany in 2006 amounted to €1.56 billion as compared with imports in the same period of only €305 million.
During the first four months of 2009, Bangladeshi exports to Germany increased by 27.5% compared to those of 2008. About 94% of the exports from Bangladesh to Germany are ready-made garments, and the imports mainly comprise machinery, chemical and electrical goods, and medicines.
So far, German direct investments in Bangladesh total almost € 60 million. The Bangladesh-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BGCCI) acts as a business platform and mediator between both the countries.
A promising field of Bangladesh exports to Germany is ships, with already more than 30 ships worth about €250 million (Tk.2,400 crores) on order by German shipowners.
German investment in Bangladesh could increase if the the rules and regulations of local investment were clear, transparent and interpreted by local courts within a limited framework.
Another new dimension of German assistance is with regard to the use of renewable energies. GTZ will provide funds and assistance for up to 380,000 solar home systems and 60,000 domestic biogas plants in remote areas until 2012.
Another source of renewable energy is wind power. Geographically, Bangladesh is blessed with a constant flow of strong monsoon winds. It has a 724 km long coastal belt, around 200 km hilly coast-line and about 50 islands/islets in the Bay of Bengal.
The strong south/south-westerly monsoon wind, coming from the Indian Ocean enters the coastal areas of Bangladesh from March to October. This wind increases in speed over the V-shaped coastal regions in Bangladesh, as research shows. Germany may provide Bangladesh technological know-how on how to convert wind-power into energy.
The cultural relationship of both the countries is very strong. Cultural cooperation is mainly channeled through the Goethe Institute, which sponsors local and German cultural activities. Bangladesh has traditional and historical connections with Germany.
Exchanges between the German and Bengali people have been taking place for over a century. Many Bangladeshi intellectuals take a keen and informed interest in German literature, art, architecture and philosophy. Folk music, such as Baul, has been very popular in Germany and a group of Baul singers was sponsored by Bangladesh Embassy sometime in the '90s.
In Bangladesh, the Goethe Institute is the main meeting place for all those interested in Germany. It offers a broad variety of cultural events through film-workshops, film-presentations, seminars and lectures on socio-political subjects as well as on aspects of contemporary arts, theatre performances, and exhibitions of German and Bangladeshi artists.
Last year, it introduced an innovative program, called "Schools: Partners for the Future," in which Oxford International School and South Point School were included. Currently, teachers of the partner schools are in Germany to continue their German language course, which they started in Bangladesh in January.
There are increasing contracts amongst German and Bangladeshi artists, primarily in fine arts, photography, films and theatre. Bangladeshi artists have been able to hold exhibitions in German galleries and museums. A number of visual artists from Bangladesh have also made Germany their new home.
Germany continues to promote the restoration of historical monuments, archaeological research and the unique legacy of the Bengali catamarans. Since 1981, a cooperation agreement has been in place between Radio Bangladesh and Deutsche Welle (DW).
Bilateral commerce and trade are continuing, although there is considerable scope for greater engagement. Bilateral relations got some momentum through several high level visits, contracts, and political and economic dialogue. A nine-member German parliamentary delegation visited Bangladesh in February 2004.
Both Germany and Bangladesh share common views on many international issues in the UN and in other international fora. They have maintained and developed close and friendly relations in a wide range of fields. The two countries are held together by their commitment to various sectors mutually agreed upon, which is expected to be strengthened further in future.
Broad-based discussions with major development partners are critical in understanding the role they play in the economic growth of the country. In many areas, such bilateral relations develop on the basis of agenda crafted abroad and grafted in our development program with the consent of our government of the day. The activities of such partner countries also require close understanding by our general public.
The Centre for Foreign Affairs Studies, by arranging such events in the non-government sector, will help in informing the general public about the useful role of our foreign friends. Our media too can play an important role in this public diplomacy .