Economic diplomacy is inseparable from political diplomacy. In the broader context of foreign policy and diplomacy the objectives are security and development; security not only physical or military. Non-military security involves, among other things, water, food, energy, ecology, climate change and, natural and man-made disasters. The formidable challenges of ensuring comprehensive security and development; of poverty eradication, hunger, malnutrition, health, disease, education and unemployment, among others, are essential prerequisites for peace - having peace within and without. Out-break of war and conflict is, therefore, said to be the vanishing point of diplomacy.
For Bangladesh, the major challenge is to graduate from the current status of one of the least developed countries to a middle income and developed economy. To achieve the goal of meaningful development, progress and modernisation, there is a need for infusing fresh dynamism into Economic diplomacy reflecting the current global, regional realities and compulsions. This would mean not only government to government relationships but crucially, people to people contacts and exchanges. This is essential in an age of public diplomacy to foster interactions at different levels; to promote comprehensive economic, trade, investment, cultural and intellectual exchanges.
Our vision should be one of a borderless region with no visa restrictions, free movements of people, goods and services. Irrational security concerns should not stand in the way. Stable, enlightened and prosperous societies are the best bulwark against terrorism and its manifestations in different forms.
We owe a debt of gratitude to our Noble laureate Professor Yunus for his innovative concept of Micro-credit symbolised by the Grameen Bank which has contributed significantly for the empowerment of women and replicated globally.
He has followed it up with the innovative concept of social business as an answer to the inadequacies of the capitalist system. The social business concept is now being increasingly embraced around the globe as a positive contribution to the solution of major global challenges including economic, ecological, huge unemployment - particularly that of youths - to the problem of deforestation as in Haiti. It is felt that it would help in overcoming the challenges of development facing Bangladesh if we increasingly adopt social business models to meet particularly the growing unemployment of the youths by tapping their entrepreneurial potentials.
An innovative polity, functional democracy, good governance with an inclusive economic system and a vibrant private sector fully backed by the government should enable Bangladesh to leapfrog from the status of a LDC to a middle income and developed economy.
A proactive economic diplomacy has become all the more imperative in the context of global and regional economic developments. While Europe is gradually coming out of economic slow-down, the economic prospect in the USA seems relatively more promising. It is, however, Asia, which serious scholars believe, has the most promising growth prospect for a number of reasons - most importantly perhaps the unprecedented emergence of three reform minded leaders in the three most populous Asian countries namely China's XI Jinping, India's Narendra Modi and Indonesia's Joko Widudo. All these leaders are committed to the process of development and modernisation.
The recent successful visit of President Obama to India with a positive outcome involving signing of the India-US civilian nuclear agreement with emphasis on clean and renewable energy particularly the solar energy; the participation of US Companies for manufacturing products including pharmaceuticals and modern agricultural equipment are some of the positive outcomes. These should significantly boost not only India-US of economic, scientific, trade and investment co-operation but also benefit Bangladesh and other countries.
In the context of the Asian Century, both India and China are taking positive initiatives for peace and development through significant domestic reforms and farsighted diplomatic moves.
Following China's achievements, India's success in modernisation and progress is of paramount importance; our hope is that China and India, the two Asian giants, would resolve their conflicts bilaterally and would co-exist peacefully. This would enable us to reap the huge economic dividends of peace pulling millions within these and the neighbouring countries from the clutches of poverty to development and modernisation.
For Bangladesh, to be able to seize the opportunity of the Asian Century of development, there is an agonising need for a re-appraisal of its economic diplomacy including the tool of its implementation.
The Foreign Ministry and Missions abroad, as it is constituted at present, would have to be fully reorganised to achieve the objective. We would need to recruit the best candidates on the basis of merit and train these officers to be the finest professional diplomats for the implementation of Economic diplomacy. This is an age of specialisation; the jack of all trades and master of none is no longer relevant to meet the complex bilateral and multinational economic, diplomatic and global challenges facing us. To successfully negotiate, our diplomats would have to have in-depth knowledge and expertise; they would then be able to ensure win-win outcomes of intricate negotiations instead of making unilateral concessions detrimental to our national interest due to inept handling.
Our diplomats have to be the finest salespersons of Bangladesh abroad on the ground led by the Mission Chief; this should involve, among others, branding Bangladesh; handling with competence economic, commercial and technical issues and selling our products and attracting foreign investors.
A crucial element of our economic diplomacy, which is often neglected, is utilising the expertise, assistance and resources of the Non-Resident Bangladeshis (NRB). The NRB's are not only sources of remittance but our best ambassadors for projecting a positive image of Bangladesh through business, trade, cultural and intellectual engagements with the local people - a largely untapped source of investment for the development of Bangladesh. Currently most of the Non-Resident Bangladeshis (NRB) invest in real estates or unproductive sectors for lack of special incentives for them to invest in other key sectors of our economy. Priority attention should be given to evolve a special incentive package to attract the investment of the NRBs in vital sectors of the economy. This would enable them to contribute significantly to the development process of Bangladesh.
The Foreign Ministry has to have a well-staffed and highly efficient economic diplomacy desk with experienced diplomats; representative from the ERD, BOI, the Export Promotion Bureau, the manpower Bureau, representatives from the private sectors including the FBCCI and other relevant Ministries and agencies. The Foreign Ministry officers should be posted to the relevant ministries involved with economic diplomacy before their postings abroad. The rhetoric of one stop service of the BOI has to be become a concrete reality; corruption, red-tape, bureaucratic inertia and inefficiency would have to be done away with.
The current policy of exporting unskilled or semi-skilled manpower and female workers including drivers, domestic maids and other essential manpower needs to be reviewed in keeping with our goals of modernisation and development. To attract FDI we need a pool of trained and efficient workforce for the factories and firms; to work in the multinational organisations and foreign companies. Training should include working knowledge of the English language, proficiency in IT and other essential skills.
Crucially, once Bangladesh is able to move from the present largely agrarian economy to a manufacturing one, after becoming a middle income and developed economy, there would be requirement for considerable number of skilled and semi-skilled workers. We could then be faced with the prospect of shortage of workers as experiences of a number of countries including Malaysia have shown.
We have to, therefore, plan now our manpower needs with a long term perspective in view in keeping with our vision of a modern developed country. There is also need for a significant expanding of our export base and productive capacity in agriculture and agro-based industries; manufacturing including RMG, pharmaceuticals, leather, IT, motor vehicles, spare parts, ship building, fisheries and other vital sectors. The creative genius of our enterprising people combined with the competitive cost of production and skill should make Bangladesh the manufacturing hub of the region including for relocation of industries from other countries.
Bangladesh diplomacy, including economic diplomacy, would need to focus with renewed vigour on the following key areas including water diplomacy. As there is shortage of water in India itself we would need to adopt a comprehensive approach involving a bilateral, sub-regional approach with India, Nepal, Bhutan and China. Through a collective approach we should be able to harness the huge water resources to ensure food security, hydro-electricity; boost agricultural production and overcome the challenges of development.
To meet the growing critical energy crisis, apart from the conventional non-renewable sources of energy, special emphasis would have to be placed on renewable energy - particularly solar, biogas, wind and clean nuclear technology; this is vital for us in the context of the threat of climate change. We would have to seek assistance for green technology from developed countries to preserve our ecology in the context of our drive for modernisation and development.
A new dimension has been added with the initiative taken by the government to explore and exploit the 'Blue Economy'; the potentials for huge oil, gas, minerals and other resources under the Bay of Bengal. For this purpose we need modern equipment, technology, expertise and training with the assistance of our developmental partners.
Bangladesh diplomacy has rightly placed connectivity as central to the success of regional integration. At the 18th SAARC Summit in Kathmandu in November, 2014, Bangladesh played a key role for Regional Transport Connectivity including the Regional Motor Vehicles Agreement, the Regional Railways Agreement and the SAARC Framework Agreement for Energy Co-operation (Electricity). Although the signings of the first two agreements were delayed; it was agreed that a meeting of the Transport Ministers of SAARC would be held within three months in order to finalise the agreements for approval. The Agreement for Energy Cooperation was, however, signed. It would be important for us to keep up the momentum so that these agreements on enhanced connectivity are finalised within a reasonable time frame. Concurrently, Bangladesh should continue in its efforts to concretise the decisions of the Bay of Bengal initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) to promote broader economic integration.
Another historic opportunity for peace and development is the Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM-EC) which embraces not only physical connectivity but also an economic corridor - the BCIM-EC project is an important part of the objectives of Beijing and Delhi to open up their landlocked regions to the neighbouring countries of Bangladesh and Myanmar. Integration of the north-east region with the neighbouring countries of Bangladesh, Myanmar and China through border trade and connectivity would foster greater economic development and other benefits to the region.
In the ultimate analysis the success of our economic diplomacy, would largely depend on our collective efforts at reordering our domestic polity to ensure a strong, stable genuinely democratic government based on good governance and rearranging of our priorities since diplomacy is said to be an extension of domestic policy and structure.
The writer is a former UN Regional Administrator in Kosovo. He can be reached at email@example.com