Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina & LDC5 Summit Championing People-centric Diplomacy

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Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina joined the fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC) held in Doha, Qatar on 4-9 March 2023. The Conference was organised with the theme ‘LDC5: From Potential and Prosperity’. Prime Minister Hasina has eloquently demonstrated that she is not only a leader of 170 million Bangladesh community, but also 1.1 billion people who are living in the least developed countries (LDCs). During her stay in Qatar, she attended the LDC5 conference, several side-line events and a civic reception. The PM also held meetings with different leaders including Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Chairperson of Qatar Foundation Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and UNGA President Csaba Korosi.

KEY FOCUS OF THE LDC5: The Prime Minister of Bangladesh has not only represented Bangladesh but also the LDCs in the conference which is crucial in the context of prevailing economic challenges and geopolitical rivalries in different parts of the world. It is argued that the world’s LDCs are in a race against time to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and at the same time confronting critical concerns emanating from twin challenges of the Ukraine War and the COVID-19 pandemic. The LDC5 is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to accelerate initiatives for sustainable development through development cooperation and to tap the full potential of the LDCs helping them make progress on the road to prosperity. The conference revolved around the Doha Programme of Action which has six major components– investing in people eradicating poverty and building capacity; leveraging the power of science, technology & innovation; supporting structural transformation as a driver of prosperity; enhancing international trade and regional integration; tackling climate change, COVID-19, and building resilience; and mobilising international partnerships for sustainable graduation.

PROJECTING BANGLADESH: The Prime Minister has emphatically projected the extraordinary achievements of Bangladesh in the recent years which is the outcome of her visionary leadership and prudent policy of the government. She has reviewed her country’s efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic in providing large stimulus packages and the ability of Bangladesh economy to withstand the crisis years and increase per capita income, stressing that her country is a reliable partner at the level of global supply chain and one of the fastest growing digital economies. The Prime Minister addressed several high-level side events that played a key role in sharing the stories of Bangladesh. She addressed the events such as “Sustainable and Smooth Transition for the Graduating Cohort of 2021” organised by the three Asian countries–Bangladesh, Nepal and Lao PDR– on the way to transition from the list of LDCs, the Business Summit on “The Rise of Bengal Tiger: Potentials of Trade & Investment in Bangladesh”, and attended a high-level roundtable titled “Enhancing the participation of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in International Trade & Regional Integration”. The Prime Minister joined an important event on “Global Partnership for Smooth and Sustainable Graduation: Marching towards Smart Bangladesh”, and attended another programme on “Investment in Research and Development in LDCs for Smart and Innovative Societies” as the chief guest.

The issues of these high-profile meetings, events and programmes clearly show that Bangladesh has made powerful strides in projecting its achievements and potentials to the world community. In projecting Bangladesh for FDI, the PM invited investors to take the opportunities available in the country. She said Bangladesh’s export volume has exceeded US$ 60 billion mark and received FDI of US$ 2.8 billion in 2022. She informed the audience that Bangladesh is among the world’s top ten remittance earning countries and it is now the world’s 35th largest economy with a GDP of US$ 460 billion. She also mentioned that Bangladesh is projected to become the 24th largest by the first half of the 2030s.

UNWAVERING VOICE OF THE PEOPLE OF THE LDCS: The Bangladesh PM has very fittingly captured the underlying objectives and goals of the conference in her speech delivered at the LDC5. It is a powerful voice that the world has heard from a leader who has been making courageous and spirited statements time and again about the present context of the world and interests of the global South, particularly the LDCs, including Bangladesh. The Prime Minister strongly affirmed that the Doha Programme of Action (2022-2031) is a guarantee of hope for vulnerable countries, and that the international community must renew its commitment to its implementation to achieve structural transformation in the least developed countries. She stated that the LDCs need sustainable support for their 1.1 billion people to double their share in the volume of world trade, and implement the goals and objectives of this development journey.

COVID-19, UKRAINE WAR AND FUTURE OF THE YOUTH: The Prime Minister said that the COVID-19 pandemic and its multiple waves and the war in Ukraine were strong blows to the economies of the LDCs, which led to a rise in food and fuel prices in global markets and thus waves of inflation in developing countries, compounding these crises on climate crises and conflicts. She said, “We are suffering a lot as a result of the war. Inflation has increased, especially due to non-arrival of goods for sanctions. People are suffering a lot because of this (war), people are suffering all over the world. The war needs to stop as soon as possible.” She felt for the 226 million young people in these countries who should not be made disappointed. Highlighting the importance of the youth, she says, “Our young people should be made part of the Future of Work. We need meaningful global partnership for that.”

GRADUATION TO THE STATUS OF DEVELOPING COUNTRY: As some LDCs are poised to graduate to the status of developing country, the Prime Minister highlighted this issue in her deliberation. In this context, she stressed the need for the countries to have incentives and to enjoy international support measures for an extended period of time, noting that Bangladesh qualifies to exit from this list in 2026. While meeting with UNDP official Achim Steiner, the prime minister asked the UNDP to take lead so that countries which are graduating from LDCs would not lose all international benefits entitled for LDCs at a time. She asserted that Bangladesh is the only country from this category classified among the 50 largest economies in the world and that this path is linked to the efforts made to achieve sustainable, just and comprehensive development, reduce poverty rates, reduce the consequences of disasters, risks and climate impact, take effective measures for social protection, gender equality and raise literacy rates.

CLIMATE CHANGE, TECHNOLOGY AND ROHINGYA ISSUE: Bangladesh Prime Minister emphasised the issue of climate change which has profound implications for the LDCs. She said that the government has worked on a host of home-grown climate adaptation measures, including through technological applications. She demanded that transfer of technology to these countries be tangible and real, and that migrant workers enjoy protection. Sheikh Hasina clearly said that the Rohingya situation is becoming difficult day by day due to its non-resolution. In an interview with Aljazeera the PM argued the international attention to forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals was diverted to the war in Ukraine and the Ukrainian refugees – a reality that has created the Rohingya situation more difficult to resolve. In her words, “The whole focus is now on the war and the refugees from the Ukraine.” The prime minister talked about a number of issues, including the situation in the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, relocation of Rohingya to Bhashan Char, and the future of the Rohingyas from Myanmar.

RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT AND SOUTH-SOUTH COOPERATION: With reference to the pandemic, Sheikh Hasina reminded that LDCs could not wait to invest in scientific research and technological innovation. Investments in research and knowledge are a must for advancing their economies through productive capacity building. Very rightly, the prime minister mentioned that LDCs’ average GDP expenditure for research and development still remains below 0.6 per cent, and only a handful of them feature in the Global Innovation Index. At the same time, she stressed that the LDCs cannot afford to lag behind with the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Sheikh Hasina proposed to form an International Forum involving the South-South countries to find the potentials and the things to be done for the welfare of the peoples as the developed nations do not help as per their promise.

BANGLADESH-QATAR BILATERAL RELATIONS: The visit has been immensely beneficial to promote Bangladesh-Qatar relationship which is moving towards brighter days and robust partnership. In a Business Summit, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called for forming a joint trade and investment committee by the two governments. She observed, “Our two nations need to reposition our ties based on a mutually beneficial economic partnership.” During a meeting with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, held on the sidelines of the LDC5 in Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC) in Doha, the Prime Minister sought increased energy, particularly Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) from Qatar to meet the energy demand amid the Ukraine war. The Bangladesh PM also raised the issues of workers’ welfare, prospect of Qatar’s investment in the economic zones.

Besides, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also directed Bangladeshi diplomats in a Regional Envoys’ Conference to be more active in strengthening national economic interests aiming to maintain the country’s graduation as a developing nation through increasing trade and export. She has provided new guidelines for the diplomats in the region in line with economic diplomacy and facing the new challenges.

To conclude, the visit of Prime Minister to Doha, Qatar in connection with the LDC5 and bilateral summits with the Emir of Qatar and high-profile dignitaries has added a new dynamism in bilateral and multilateral diplomacy of Bangladesh. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina highlighted the importance of welfare of people in her diplomatic strides and she sought support from development partners to make smart, innovative and knowledge-based society in the LDCs to promote a peaceful, just and inclusive global society. Sheikh Hasina once again emphasised the improving of conditions of 1.1 billion LDC population through her people-centric diplomacy and economic prosperity.

– Delwar Hossain, PhD is Professor of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, and the founder of the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in The Financial Express [Link]