The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the United Kingdom, led respectively by Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Md. Shahidul Haque and FCO Permanent Under-Secretary Sir Simon McDonald, convened the third Bangladesh-UK Strategic Dialogue on 24 April 2019, in Dhaka.
The Strategic Dialogue involved a productive exchange of views across the entire gamut of bilateral relations between Bangladesh and the United Kingdom, covering political relations, economic and development partnership, security and defence cooperation, and exchanges on current global issues.
1. Overview of Bilateral Relations
1.1. Bangladesh and the UK recalled their historic relations and reiterated satisfaction at the strong and growing bilateral relations between the two friendly countries. Bangladesh recognised the UK’s moral and political support during its 1971 War of Liberation and the momentous meeting between Father of the Nation of Bangladesh Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and British Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath on 8 January 1972. Each country underscored the importance of exchange of visits and interactions at the highest political level and looked forward to further deepening and broadening bilateral relations.
1.2 Both countries noted that the year 2021 will mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations as well as the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s Independence. To commemorate these historic events, both countries agreed to arrange appropriate celebrations highlighting their shared history, heritage, language, institutions, trade, development, and people to people links.
1.3 The UK welcomed the re-appointment of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina following the 2018 general election in Bangladesh and concerns raised by the UK Government at the time, about the conduct of the elections, and noted actions taken by Bangladesh in this regard. Bangladesh welcomed Prime Minister Theresa May’s letter of felicitation to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and the former’s commitment to work together as a steadfast partner in the humanitarian and diplomatic response towards the Rohingya crisis.
1.4 The UK welcomed Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s anti-corruption drive and stressed the importance of a vibrant civil society and freedom of expression to promote good governance and accountable institutions. Both countries expressed their resolve to work closely to promote democracy, human rights, media freedom, political participation and pluralism for sustainable development.
1.5 The UK briefed on political developments domestically and in Europe. Bangladesh briefed on political developments domestically and on relations with neighbours bilaterally and through regional frameworks. The UK stressed its desire to reach a broad and deep future relationship with the EU, whilst remaining outward looking, and committed to its global responsibilities, including as a champion of free trade, and seeking to further strengthen its relationship with close partners such as Bangladesh.
1.6 Bangladesh stressed the importance of an efficient decision making process for UK visa applications for its nationals, particularly for students and businesses. The UK restated its commitment to maintain a high quality service for Bangladeshi nationals at the visa application centres in Dhaka and Sylhet and welcomed the increased volume of applications. Bangladesh also welcomed separate arrangements made by the UK at VFS, Bangladesh for facilitated visa applications by senior government officials and other dignitaries. The UK agreed to continue to maintain similar arrangements in future.
1.7 The UK welcomed Bangladesh’s continued commitment to prevent irregular migration and take back its citizens who have exhausted all legal means to remain in the UK. The two sides agreed to establish bilateral returns Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), between Bangladesh and the UK in line with the Bangladesh-EU Returns SOPs and also taking into account the existing arrangements between the Bangladesh High Commission London and the Home Office, following UK’s exit from the EU. The UK appreciated Bangladesh’s action to increase visits by its consular officers to UK prisons and removal centres, and its issuance of travel documents to those Bangladeshi nationals who had exhausted all legal recourse and no longer had any rights to remain in the UK.
1.8 Both countries highlighted the valuable contribution that the Bangladeshi-British diaspora continues to make to British society and prosperity and welcomed efforts to create greater connectivity between the two countries including in the areas of business, trade, education, sports, culture, skill development and exchange of expertise and knowledge. Bangladesh highlighted concerns of the British curry industry, on the shortage of skilled workers and the proposed wage structure as part of the future immigration white paper, whilst recognising their significant contribution to the British economy.
1.9 The UK reaffirmed its commitment to assisting Bangladeshi investigative, prosecuting, and judicial authorities in combatting crime, and highlighting the importance of human rights compliance, ensured that those accused of criminal offences are not able to escape justice by crossing national borders. Both countries agreed to deepen cooperation further in this important area, including Mutual Legal Assistance and extradition requests.
1.10 The UK and Bangladesh agreed that the Cricket World Cup in the UK would provide a good platform to celebrate the strong cultural, sporting and people-to-people links that bind the two countries.
2. Economic & Development Cooperation
2.1 The UK congratulated Bangladesh on the impressive socio-economic development achieved in recent years, including in the empowerment of women. Both sides recognised the importance of duty-free quota-free market access for Bangladesh’s socio-economic development.
2.2. The UK, as the second largest foreign investor in Bangladesh, welcomed Bangladesh’s goal to improve its Investment Climate and Bangladesh’s ranking on the Global Ease of Doing Business index. The UK also welcomed the formation of the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) as the government’s principal investment promotion and facilitation agency. Both countries agreed to work together on efforts to encourage more Foreign Direct Investment, ensure appropriate regulations and practices, speed up processes and tackle issues over contract enforcement.
2.3 The UK stressed that it remained committed to assisting Bangladesh’s economic and social development, noting that it was largest bilateral development partner of Bangladesh. It gave an update on UKAid plans/investments up to 2020 and how these aligned with the Government of Bangladesh’s priorities. Both sides reiterated their commitment to improved aid effectiveness, effective development partnerships and enhanced transparency and accountability of foreign assistance.
2.4 Both countries agreed to begin a dialogue on the future shape of their development partnership as Bangladesh moved towards and achieved middle income status. Bangladesh welcomed UK support in areas such as knowledge, innovation and skill development, enhanced co-operation between British and Bangladeshi universities, and the harnessing of the resources of the Blue Economy.
2.5 Both countries noted that the Sustainable Development Goals represented a step change in the way that the global community tackles the global challenges of poverty and disease, mass migration, insecurity, climate change, inequality, and of maintaining peace, justice, strong institutions and gender equality. Both stressed their commitment to implementing the Goals both internationally and domestically and undertook to explore ways of working more closely together to achieve the implementation of the 2030 SDG Agenda. Both countries recognised the role that civil society can play in promoting stability and economic prosperity.
2.6 Both countries highlighted the strength of educational and skills co-operation, welcoming the continued support to the Ministry of Education on systemic reform of the primary, secondary and skills education systems and more broadly on English throughout the school education system and to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs on the strategic positioning of public libraries in enabling a knowledge and skills based economy through greater access to information. It was agreed that the current Memorandum of Understanding concerning the activities of the British Council in Bangladesh should be revisited. Bangladesh requested additional annual Commonwealth, Chevening and other scholarships for its students to the UK. The UK side agreed to consider the request.
2.7 Both sides underlined the importance of safe, regular and orderly migration. In this context Bangladesh requested the UK to work together on future modalities for overseas employment of skilled manpower from Bangladesh.
2.8 UK appreciated the Government of Bangladesh’s leadership on ‘Educating the Girl Child’ campaign and the empowerment of women initiatives. Both countries agreed on the importance of education for women and girls, in particular for 12 years of quality education, to build the country’s human capital, reduce child marriage, and increase girls’ life opportunities.
3. Regional Issues
3.1 The UK appreciated the fact that despite severe space and resource constraints Bangladesh is bearing a significant burden by hosting more than a million persecuted Rohingya from Myanmar and stressed the need for voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable returns, with international oversight. The UK encouraged discussions on providing education and livelihood opportunities for the Rohingya and for host communities, as well as efforts to provide support to women and girls, including survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, highlighting the importance of creating more women’s safe spaces in the camps. Both countries acknowledged the need for planning ahead of the cyclone season to further improve conditions for all, including shelters and evacuation plans. Bangladesh thanked the UK government’s full support, commitment and sustained efforts to the Rohingya crisis, and looks forward towards the UK’s continued global leadership in international efforts to address all facets of the crisis, including accountability on the part of Myanmar for alleged atrocities committed against the Rohingyas.
3.2 Bangladesh briefed the UK on the importance of regional connectivity in South Asia and the actions it has undertaken including the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) motor vehicle and power initiative, and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), to promote trade, investment, tourism and regional prosperity and stability.
4. Global Issues
4.1 The UK and Bangladesh reiterated the importance of coordinated global action on climate change and reaffirmed their strong support for early and effective implementation of the Paris Agreement of 2015. They agreed to continue to work together on the Climate Resilience and Adaptation strand of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit in September 2019.
4.2 Both countries reaffirmed their support for the Commonwealth, delivery of the commitments made by leaders at the 2018 Heads of Government Meeting and the need to refresh the governance of the Secretariat so that it is in the best shape to address the challenges of the 21st century. Both countries highlighted their commitment to shared Commonwealth values including human rights, democracy, the rule of law, sustainable development, environment, gender equality and women’s empowerment, education and health, and international peace and security as set out in the Commonwealth Charter. The UK acknowledged Bangladesh’s commitment to protecting the oceans by tackling marine plastics via their membership of the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance and Bangladesh proposed exploring opportunities for promoting the Blue Charter Initiative.
4.3 Both countries affirmed their support for Global Compact on Migration and efforts to facilitate safe, orderly and regular migration and affirmed their support for a new, global, and co-ordinated approach to eliminate forced labour, modern forms of slavery and human trafficking.
4.4 The UK appreciated Bangladesh’s role as a leading troop and police contributor in UN peacekeeping. Bangladesh appreciated the UK’s strong commitment to promote international peace and security through facilitating a number of peace negotiations and through active participation in the UN debates on peacekeeping and peace-building activities. Both sides agreed to further deepen collaboration in the UN on peacekeeping.
5. Security & Defence Cooperation
5.1 As fellow Commonwealth members, the UK and Bangladesh stood in solidarity with and condemned the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka and in New Zealand and expressed their deepest condolences to the victims, including citizens of each country who were killed. Both countries reiterated their commitment to the global community’s efforts to resist and counter international terrorist groups. They committed to continue and further strengthen bilateral cooperation in this regard, including sharing of best practice, and information in preventing radicalisation and xenophobia, and countering terrorism and violent extremism domestically, in line with the domestic and international laws and obligations, and with full compliance for human rights.
5.2 Recalling the latest bilateral dialogue on Aviation Security held in London in March 2019, both countries welcomed the progress that had been made in aviation security in Bangladesh including at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport and recommitted to continue close co-operation in further strengthening aviation security especially in the areas of sharing of best practices, training and capacity building.
5.3 Both countries expressed satisfaction at the continued growth in military-military ties, including in the fields of humanitarian assistance, maritime and counterterrorism in accordance with international obligations. Both countries also stressed the importance of high level visits between the two defence forces. Bangladesh reiterated its earlier invite for the Chief of Defence Forces of UK to visit Bangladesh in 2019, while the UK side proposed to finalised dates in October/November 2019 for the proposed visit of Bangladesh Chief of Army Staff. Both expressed satisfaction at the procurement of C-130J aircrafts by Bangladesh as well as airframes to deliver a comprehensive capability to the Bangladesh Air Force. The UK further expressed its readiness to support Bangladesh with procurement of high calibre Multi Role Combat Aircraft alongside other modernisation programmes.
5.4 Leaders of Bangladesh and the UK delegations expressed satisfaction at the productive discussions that took place at the third Bangladesh-UK Strategic Dialogue in a warm and friendly atmosphere, and agreed that the next Strategic Dialogue will be held in London in the first half of 2020.
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