Exclusive Interview with H.E. Mahbub Hassan Saleh, Ambassador of Bangladesh: A Deep Dive into Bangladesh-EU Relations

Exclusive Interview with H.E. Mahbub Hassan Saleh, Ambassador of Bangladesh: A Deep Dive into Bangladesh-EU Relations

In an exclusive interview with EU Today, Gary Cartwright, Editor of EU Today, sat down with His Excellency Mahbub Hassan Saleh, the Ambassador of Bangladesh to Belgium, Luxembourg, and the European Union.

The conversation covered a wide range of topics, including the recent elections in Bangladesh, the country’s development journey, and its evolving partnership with the EU.

Bangladesh Elections: A Milestone in Democratic Progress

Ambassador Saleh began by discussing the recent elections in Bangladesh, which he described as “free, fair, and credible” with a turnout of over 40%.

Despite some parties choosing not to participate, the elections were observed by international bodies and showcased the democratic maturity of the nation.

He emphasised the importance of political participation, stating that responsible parties should engage in the electoral process to demonstrate their support among the populace.

A Challenging Tenure Amid Global Crises

Reflecting on his tenure, Ambassador Saleh recounted his arrival in Brussels during the COVID-19 pandemic, which posed significant challenges to diplomatic activities.

However, he noted that the period has been enriching and rewarding, highlighting the robust and growing relationship between Bangladesh and the EU.

The partnership, established in 1973, has evolved from a development cooperation to a comprehensive trade relationship, with bilateral trade now standing at $28 billion.

Trade and Economic Cooperation: A Strong Partnership

Bangladesh is the second-largest manufacturer and exporter of ready-made garments (RMG) globally, with the country’s exports including RMG to the EU accounting for $25 billion, or 45% of the country’s total global exports.

The EU has extended the Everything But Arms (EBA) trade privilege to Bangladesh until 2029, supporting its transition from a least developed country (LDC) to a developing nation.

The Ambassador expressed confidence that Bangladesh would qualify for the GSP+ trade privilege post-2029, given the country’s progress and the strength of its EU partnership.

Diversifying Exports and Enhancing Economic Resilience

In addition to garments, Bangladesh is diversifying its export basket to include frozen foods, leather goods, jute products, ceramics, light engineering products, bicycles, ICT services, pharmaceuticals and ship-building, among others.

The country is also making strides in renewable energy, with ambitious targets to generate 40% of its power from clean sources by 2041, leveraging solar and wind energy.

Political and Climate Dialogues: Strengthening Bilateral Ties

Ambassador Saleh highlighted the launch of political and climate dialogues between Bangladesh and the EU in 2022 and 2023 respectively.

Bangladesh, one of the most climate-vulnerable countries, has been proactive in addressing the challenges of climate change, establishing its own climate fund and advocating for global financial commitments to adaptation and mitigation.

Migration and Connectivity: Facilitating Legal Pathways

Migration is another key area of cooperation. Bangladesh is working with the EU to facilitate legal migration and skilled workforce mobility through talent partnership, addressing the demand for workers in various sectors across Europe.

Connectivity initiatives, including physical and power grid connectivity, are also being pursued under the BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) framework.

Global Gateway Initiative: A Landmark Financial Package

The Ambassador discussed Bangladesh’s early partnership with the EU under the Global Gateway initiative, aimed at enhancing sustainable infrastructure and renewable energy.

This collaboration resulted in a significant financial package: a €350 million loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB) and a €45 million grant from the European Commission, supplemented by contributions from Germany and other EU entities.

Visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister to Brussels: The Highest Point in Bangladesh – EU Partnership
Sheikh Hasina

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina & EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen Address Global Gateway 2023 in Brussels.

The visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Brussels in October, upon invitation by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, to participate in the first Global Gateway Forum was the highest point in Bangladesh- EU Partnership to date.

Both the leaders had an excellent bilateral meeting and jointly announced the launching of a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) to take take relationship to a new level.

Peace-Centric Foreign Policy and Humanitarian Efforts

Bangladesh’s foreign policy is rooted in peace and humanitarian principles, as demonstrated by its generous hosting of 1.2 million forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals (Rohingyas) since 2017.

The core principle of Bangladesh’s foreign policy ‘Friendship to all and malice towards none’ was articulated by the country’s Founding Father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman immediately after its independence.

The Ambassador underscored Bangladesh’s commitment to peace, highlighting its leading role in UN peacekeeping missions and the peaceful resolution of land and maritime border disputes with India and Myanmar.

Future Aspirations: Towards a Smart Bangladesh by 2041

Looking ahead, Ambassador Saleh outlined Bangladesh’s vision to become a fully developed, knowledge-based society by 2041. The government aims to build a “Smart Bangladesh,” characterised by technological advancement, high literacy rates, modern infrastructure, a knowledge

-based society and sustainable development. The EU’s support will be crucial in achieving these ambitious goals.

In conclusion, Ambassador Saleh’s insights reflect a dynamic and forward-looking Bangladesh, committed to strengthening its partnership with the EU and achieving sustainable development.

This comprehensive mature and comprehensive dialogue highlights the multifaceted relationship between Bangladesh and the EU, marked by shared goals and mutual support.

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