Assalam o aleikum, Nomoshte, Adab, Good Morning and welcome. Thank you for coming here today.
I am proud and delighted to be here and to represent Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second and the UK in Bangladesh. I am also deeply honoured that I was able to present my credentials yesterday to His Excellency the President so soon after my arrival. I have been in Bangladesh for one week, and have been touched by the warmth of the welcome I have received from everyone I have met.
This is not only my first posting as a British High Commissioner but I am also privileged to be the UK’s first woman High Commissioner in Bangladesh so I hope my appointment to a job which I could not have even dreamt of when I was at school, may help encourage all young people, boys too but particularly girls, to believe that it is possible.
My appointment is not a break with the past but an opportunity to build on the work of my many respected predecessors High Commissioners to further strengthen and deepen the long and friendly relationship between the UK and Bangladesh and to build a bright future for both our countries.
Bangladesh is a young country, with a growing economy and a flourishing population. The UK is a somewhat older state and you have growth rates that we certainly don’t match. But the UK and Bangladesh share the broadest range of interests, including education, development, bilateral trade and prosperity and security, including action on the threats that harm us all.
And, as two Commonwealth countries, we share a set of core values including a commitment to Parliamentary democracy and a tolerant and pluralistic system with a commitment to protect and uphold human rights.
Our people-to-people links are the bedrock of our relationship. We have the largest Bangladeshi diaspora in Europe, and the nearly 500,000 British Bangladeshis have made an immense positive contribution to every aspect of British life, from Parliament to business, food, arts and culture. The UK is Bangladesh’s third biggest export market and many thousands of Bangladeshis visit or work or study in the UK each year.
And the contribution is in both directions. Bangladesh is an important market and destination for British business. The UK is the largest cumulative investor in Bangladesh with over £1.3bn of investment in the country. Over 100 British companies operate in Bangladesh, including at least one that has been here for over 100 years. These companies span the fields of banking, consumer products, energy, consultancy, textiles, education, architecture and much more. They are also some of the largest contributors to the Bangladeshi Exchequer and have industry-leading social responsibility programmes. There is a great demand for the English language and other educational and skills training and cultural activities delivered by the British Council and British universities, colleges and arts organisations finds an avid audience here. And many British families have, like my own, ancestral links to Bengal’s historic past.
We, I, am here because the UK believes that a stable, prosperous and secure Bangladesh is in the UK’s interest as well as that of Bangladesh. We are committed to supporting Bangladesh in its aspirations to build a brighter future for all its people. That means supporting its aspirations to become a middle income country by 2021, helping lift the population out of poverty, improving the rights and prospects of women and girls, building resilience in line with international principles and commitments, and working to counter violent extremism and threats to the safety of our citizens to protect both our countries.
In an increasingly unpredictable and unstable world, Bangladesh deserves the credit it has rightly been given for its role internationally in the UN, not least helping to shape the new Global Goals, at the UN Human Rights Council and as the largest personnel contributor to UN peacekeeping operations.
The UK and the Government of Bangladesh also work together to tackle shared problems, ones that neither of us can solve on our own, including security problems and particularly extremism and terrorism and the threat posed by climate change, a threat to all of us but very acutely to Bangladesh which is already vulnerable to natural disasters, such as cyclones, floods, river bank erosion, earthquakes.
Bangladesh is currently the eighth most populous country in the world. Poverty levels have fallen to under 45% as a result of steady growth, industrialisation and remittances. Bangladesh is rightly proud of its achievement in meeting most of the Millennium Development Goals, making remarkable progresses in increasing primary school enrolment, improving gender parity in primary and secondary level education, lowering child and maternal mortality and reducing the incidence of communicable diseases.
The new UK Aid Strategy has reconfirmed the UK Government’s commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on overseas development assistance and we are the only G7 country to meet this target. We invest heavily in Bangladesh’s development, spending £185m last year. UK support over the last 5 years has, amongst other things, helped lift 1.5 m Bangladeshi citizens out of extreme poverty, provided access to safe water for 1.3m people, helped 500,000 women give birth safely and ensured that 500,000 boys and girls complete primary school.
We now have a shared commitment to work on the next generation of targets, which include ending poverty and hunger, ensuring gender equality and promoting sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
The new Global Goals also include, for the first time, commitments to Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. The UK has provided support to Bangladesh over many years to modernise its institutions. We believe democracy with a flourishing civil society operating under the rule of law is the best way to build a prosperous and stable society. We are ready to support the government and people of Bangladesh to develop institutions befitting a middle income country and to ensure that in the pursuit of economic growth and development no one is left behind.
We are also supporting Bangladesh put in the place the foundations for continued economic growth and job creation. For example, providing nearly £7.5m to support the implementation of the government’s National Action Plan on Ready Made Garments to fund factory inspections, train inspectors, help garment workers better understand their rights and so strengthen factory health and safety practices in a sector that employs 4 million people, 80% of whom are women.
The UK supports Bangladesh’s continuing development and sustainable future growth, building on a strong trade partnership and continuing our major development programme.
As Bangladesh’s friend and the biggest bilateral grant donor we care deeply about Bangladesh’s future and value deeply the UK’s relationship with Bangladesh. Its people have made an immense positive contribution to British society and we believe we can support Bangladesh on its democratic path and as it grows to be a stronger and more prosperous nation for all its people.
And I look forward very much to working with the government and people of Bangladesh on this shared agenda in the coming years.
*As prepared for delivery