Sustainability, inclusivity and climate change
Bangladesh and Switzerland celebrate 50 years of bilateral relationship today. The relationship is evolving as Bangladesh is gearing to become a developed country by 2041. Swiss Ambassador to Bangladesh Nathalie Chuard sat down with The Daily Star to share her views on what the future holds for the two countries.
DS: How would you define the Bangladesh-Switzerland relationship?
Chuard: Since Switzerland officially recognised Bangladesh, the relationship between the two countries evolved with the changing world. On this august occasion, I am really looking forward to taking our relationship to the next level.
DS: What are the major areas of cooperation between the two countries?
Chuard: During and in the aftermath of the 1971 War, Switzerland focused primarily on humanitarian aid. This has continued. Right now, we are also supporting Bangladesh in responding to the Rohingya crisis. Over time, Switzerland has supported many innovative programmes in the areas of democratic governance, agriculture, income and economic development or labour migration. Now, we are focusing on trade and investment. There is a massive prospect of expanding our economic ties even further and I can see only positive developments if and when we can effectively combine the Swiss excellence in technology with the resilient entrepreneurial spirit of Bangladesh.
DS: What is the amount of bilateral trade and development cooperation?
Chuard: Over the last 50 years, Switzerland has invested over $1 billion in development assistance and we just passed the symbolic threshold of $1 billion in annual bilateral trade of goods. Major Swiss companies here have invested hundreds of millions so far. They provide critical goods, services, technologies, innovations and employment. Be it in terms of trade, investment, development cooperation or humanitarian aid, if you look at Switzerland's contributions per capita, we are among the top partners of Bangladesh. I am confident that this engagement will continue and prosper in the years ahead.
DS: What are the potential areas of cooperation in the coming years?
Chuard: Bangladesh has embraced the Agenda 2030 for sustainable development, and its graduation from the LDC category by 2026 is an important milestone. It recognises Bangladesh's impressive socio-economic achievements. Now, the country is at a crossroads. There is a need to prepare for the post-graduation era, where certain market access preferences may cease to exist, as well as address various structural reforms to enhance predictability in the market and demonstrate strong economic governance. This preparation is even more important now that our entire world has turned upside down with the Covid-19 pandemic; and with its consequences, the sustainability of your achievements -- especially in the areas of poverty alleviation and social development -- can be challenged. Therefore, maintaining the economic growth momentum while making it more inclusive, greener and more climate- and shock-resilient is at the core of the Swiss engagement for the years to come.
DS: Do you see any challenges in the bilateral relationship?
Chuard: The whole planet is facing daunting challenges today: Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, the never-ending struggle for peace, democracy, social justice and human rights -- just to name a few. This is why we need to work together and engage in an open and honest dialogue, where we can learn from each other and find common pathways towards sustainable development. The Agenda 2030 is the right framework for our bilateral and global cooperation. In particular, SDG 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions is a crucial one, one that I hope both our countries will work more closely on in the future. Switzerland strongly believes that global crises can be better dealt with when we come together as one. Especially in view of what is happening in the world today, multilateralism matters more than ever. Switzerland is a candidate for a seat on the UN Security Council for 2023-2024, and I am looking forward to working with your government to pursue our actions in favour of peace, international law, sustainable development and human rights.
DS: As a development partner, what are your suggestions for Bangladesh?
Chuard: There are three words that come to my mind: sustainability, inclusivity and climate change. The recipes that have brought Bangladesh so far are probably not enough to take the next big steps ahead. Inclusivity is certainly at the core of Agenda 2030. Finally, your delta country is particularly affected by climate change, with millions of people and livelihoods at risk. These are big challenges but they also come with opportunities. It has always been a strength of Bangladesh to retool fast. Retooling and rethinking will be crucial in the years to come.