Diversify exports, create conditions for FDI: European Union

AKM Moinuddin
Thursday, February 1st, 2018


The European Union (EU) continues to be a strong partner of Bangladesh for over 40 years. So far, the EU has played a significant role in Bangladesh’s journey to progressively elevate itself from a war-torn country to a country of lower middle income status.


Ambassador and the EU Head of Delegation to Bangladesh, Rensje Teerink, talked to Dhaka Courier exclusively about the EU-Bangladesh deep relations with special focus on trade, investment and Rohingya issues.


Ambassador Teerink thinks Bangladesh must look at export diversification and attracting more foreign direct investment (FDI) seriously to make the country’s “very admirable and amazing” economic growth sustainable. Bangladesh has witnessed over 7 percent of GDP growth over the last couple of years.


“It’s still a challenge and progress in these areas will depend on domestic reforms agenda,” said the EU Ambassador who arrived Dhaka four months back.


Ambassador Teerink said Bangladesh really needs to look at how it can attract businesses and give this confidence to the investors that there will be ease of doing business.


“Bangladesh isn’t performing well at all in terms of ease of doing business,” said the EU Ambassador who joined the European Commission in 1995 as administrator for South Asia.


Bangladesh has gone one notch down in the World Bank’s ranking of ease of doing business mainly due to the hurdle businesses face here at the start of their operations.


Bangladesh holds 177th position among 190 economies, according to the WB’s Doing Business report 2018.


Despite this huge impediment, Ambassador Teerink said, Bangladesh is growing so fast and mentioned that imagine how much Bangladesh economy could grow if Bangladesh could be a better host for those businesses. “Because this (growth) is happening despite challenges.”


Asked about government’s 100 economic zones plan, the EU Ambassador referred to a female private sector speaker at Bangladesh Development Forum (BDF) saying why not one or five economic zones first and do that properly and take lessons learned.


Ambassador Teerink who was appointed Deputy Head of Unit for India, Nepal, Bhutan and SAARC in 2006, said the government’s plan to have 100 economic zones sounds good at the same time it sounds very ambitious.


With its liberal trade regime, the EU has provided Bangladesh a platform to become the second largest exporter of readymade garment (RMG) in the world.


Today, about 56 percent of exports from Bangladesh go to the EU, the bulk of which is RMG. The RMG revolution has also been instrumental in ensuring economic freedom to a sizable proportion of women in this country.


Hopeful of fair polls


Responding to a question, the EU envoy said, “In terms of democratic space, we hope all contenders will come on board and the whole exercise will be free and fair.”


Ambassador Teerink also said they hope to see opposition parties participating in the elections.


She said democracy, governance and human rights – these are something they follow closely worldwide and laid emphasis on addressing concerns in these areas.


“For me, it will be an exciting time (being here in election year),” she said adding that they have already discussed with the Election Commission over sending EU Election Observation Mission if they find situation favorable.


The Election Observation Mission (EOM) of the EU has broad acceptance by all political parties and actors in this country.


On irregular Bangladeshi migrants living in the Europe, the Ambassador said, “We have made very good progress. Migration has become a big concern in the Europe in the last couple of years.”


The EU and Bangladesh signed the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to bring back all irregular migrants from the Europe. A technical team will be coming to Dhaka soon to see the progress.


The EU Ambassador laid emphasis on rebranding Bangladesh saying the whole image of Bangladesh is completely different now than it was 10-15 years ago.


She said they will continue to working with the private sector and garment sector leaders so that the whole readymade garment sector becomes ILO-compliant one.


“There is still some works to be done. Bangladesh Labour Law needs to be ILO standard,” Ambassador Teerink said reiterating their joint commitment to the Sustainability Compact, including the respect of labour rights, in particular with regard to freedom of association.


Talking about Bangladesh’s aspiration to become middle-income country, the EU envoy said it is a good goal and there is of course always danger middle income trap. “Bangladesh needs to look at it and export diversification remains the key issue.”


Bangladesh will have to go for the GSP Plus status from the European Union when it graduates to the developing country bracket in 2021.


As a least-developed country Bangladesh has been enjoying zero-duty benefit to the EU under its Everything but Arms scheme since 1971. But once it becomes a developing country, Bangladesh will no longer be eligible for the privilege.


Strengthening workplace safety, improved labour rights, saving the environment and reduction of corruption are some of the major conditions for receiving the GSP Plus status from the EU, destination for 60 percent of Bangladesh’s garment products.


More pressure on Myanmar


The European Union is likely to come up with a more genuine pressure on Myanmar in February so that it acts promptly and creates an environment for the sustainable return of Rohingyas to their homeland from Bangladesh.


“I’m sure there’ll be new (EU) council conclusions on Myanmar in February. I hope there’ll be more pressure. The only thing is to put more pressure on Myanmar,” said Ambassador Teerink.


In October last year, the Council of the EU in its conclusions said it may consider additional measures if the situation does not improve but also stands ready to respond accordingly to positive developments.


The EU envoy, however, said she is yet to know what the conclusions will contain — whether it will be arms embargo or targeted sanctions on Myanmar government and army.


Ambassador Teerink who arrived here four months back, also said probably there will be more individual targeted sanctions on some of the generals.


On Wednesday, Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) on the Rohingya crisis laid emphasis on imposing arms embargo and targeted sanctions on Myanmar and its senior officials respectively to create a safe environment for Rohingyas to return to their homeland from Bangladesh.

“I think it’s time to impose an arms embargo on the Myanmar army, including targeted sanctions against the generals who are behind these atrocities,” APHR Chairperson and Malaysian MP Charles Santiago said seeking a role from India, China and Russia who sell arms to Myanmar.


Santiago also sought steps to deploy peacekeeping force to oversee the movement of Rohingyas.


He said without the presence of peacekeeping force repatriation will be difficult, in other words, he said, it will be almost impossible. “The repatriation should be safe and voluntary one.”


Giving her second observation on the Rohingya situation, Ambassador Teerink said they can put pressure on the Myanmar government but the question is how they can convince people in Rakhine to welcome Rohingyas.


“What we understand the Rakhine people are not very happy to have them (Rohingyas) back. So, you can try and integrate but there is a negative public sentiment. It’s very worrying,” she explained.


The EU Ambassador said they could imagine that many Rohingyas are afraid of going back to Myanmar.


The idea is on the Myanmar side is to build a township to welcome returnees, she said recalling the situation of IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp which has no freedom of movement.


On January 16, Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a document on ‘Physical Arrangement’ which will facilitate the return of Rohingyas to their homeland from Bangladesh.


The ‘Physical Arrangement’ stipulates that the repatriation will be completed preferably within two years from the start of repatriation.


3rd country settlement difficult


Asked about the way-out if repatriation process fails and subsequent third-country settlement, the EU Ambassador said, “A third-country settlement is very difficult. We’ve a migration crisis at our doorsteps as well.”


Teerink said they are also looking at the OIC but they have not seen much force coming from the OIC that they would be eager to take Rohingyas. “For Europe, it (3rd country settlement) is difficult.”


The Ambassador, however, said Rohingya crisis is not Bangladesh’s problem but Bangladesh is a victim of this crisis.


“Roots lie in Myanmar,” she said adding that the government of Myanmar will continue to be embodied that they can get away with it if there is no strong pressure on Myanmar.


Appreciating Bangladesh’s role, the EU Ambassador said this humanitarian gesture is really admirable. “International community cannot leave Bangladesh alone (to deal with the crisis).”


In September, the European Commission announced additional humanitarian aid of €3 million to address the most pressing needs of Rohingya civilians. The funding came on top of the €12 million announced in May 2017.


The EU has been providing humanitarian support to Myanmar and Bangladesh for many years.


There are so many common things that characterize the whole subcontinent which also encompasses the people of Bangladesh, said the EU Ambassador who is highly impressed by the hospitality, friendliness and culture of Bangladesh.


“I find it very fascinating,” said the Dutch national adding that she hopes to travel more inside the country to see a different parts of beautiful Bangladesh.


Apart from her Dutch mother tongue, is fluent in English, French, German and Italian and has a working knowledge of Spanish, Hindi and Nepali.

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