Germany, as one of the earliest European countries, demonstrated its astute political acumen by recognizing Bangladesh’s sovereignty from Pakistan in 1972. This pivotal decision paved the way for the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two nations, solidifying Germany’s position as a significant player in Bangladesh’s political landscape. The bilateral relationship between the two countries has flourished significantly over the course of the last fifty years, positioning Germany as a prominent development partner for Bangladesh. Furthermore, Germany’s commendable status as the second-largest export destination for Bangladesh further underscores its influential role in the economic realm. Additionally, Germany’s consistent support as a reliable donor and a vital development partner in various sectors including climate and energy, governance, migration, vocational education and training, and sustainable supply chains have garnered admiration and appreciation from the Bangladeshi government and its people.
Germany prioritizes climate and energy to help Bangladesh manage climate change and boost sustainable energy. Additionally, the emphasis on displacement and migration recognizes the complex dynamics involved and attempts to help the impacted people of Bangladesh. These dynamics demonstrate German development cooperation’s dedication to multifaceted issues in bilateral relations. In early September 2023, Germany committed to providing Bangladesh with a total of 191 million euros in the realm of technical and financial assistance, with the intent of supporting the country’s sustainable development efforts. Germany has been steadfastly extending its financial and technical support to Bangladesh since the year 1972, resulting in a substantial total of over €3 billion.
In addition to that, Germany, as a noteworthy global player, has provided humanitarian support to Rohingya refugees. It has also been backing up a voluntary, secure, and courteous Rohingya repatriation to their homeland, Myanmar, proving its commitment to resolving this intricate politico-economic problem. In a similar collaborative move, Bangladesh and Germany recently signed ‘two technical cooperation agreements’ with a view to protecting and effectively utilizing natural resources in the Sundarbans Mangroves and developing the condition of the tannery industry. These agreements signify significant milestones that are poised to fortify the existing rapport between the two parties.
Bangladesh-German Technical Cooperation Agreements
On September 19th, Bangladesh and Germany inked ‘two technical cooperation agreements’ for respective projects involving the Sundarbans Mangroves and tanning industries. The agreements pertain to two significant projects, namely the “Integrated management of the Sundarbans Mangroves and the Marine Protected Area ‘Swatch of No Ground (SoNG)’ Bangladesh” and “Good Working Conditions in Tanneries (GOTAN)”. The Swatch of No Ground (SonG) Marine Protected Area is a designated conservation area located in the Bay of Bengal, specifically under the jurisdiction of Bangladesh. The reserve has a land area of about 1,636 square kilometers (632 square miles).
The Marine Protected Area (MPA) was officially created in October 2014, earning the distinction of becoming the first MPA in the nation. The region has significant ecosystems that support a variety of endangered marine animals, including whales, dolphins, and many more. However, the allocated budget for the SoNG project stands at a substantial sum of €4 million. This financial provision is set to cover a span of three years, culminating in July 2025. The implementation of the project will be carried out by the Department of Fisheries (DoF), under the purview of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
In a significant move, the government has officially designated the SoNG as the nation’s inaugural Marine Protected Area, encompassing an expansive surface area of 173,000 hectares. This strategic decision underscores the administration’s commitment to safeguarding marine ecosystems and preserving the delicate balance of our natural resources. By bestowing this designation upon the SoNG, the government aims to fortify the conservation efforts and enhance the sustainable management of marine biodiversity. This landmark decision is poised to have far-reaching implications for the ecological well-being of Bangladesh and sets a precedent for future conservation initiatives. The funding proposal primarily hinges upon a solicitation for assistance within the expansive Blue Sundarbans region, which was officially conveyed by the government in March 2017.
The primary focal objectives of this project are centered around enhancing the coordination mechanisms pertaining to the safeguarding and sustainable utilization of the natural resources within the Swatch of No Ground (SoNG) Marine Protected Area. Additionally, it aims to bolster the capabilities of the (Bangladesh Fisheries Development BFD) in the realm of marine management of protected areas. However, the allocated financial resources of a substantial sum of €4 million are also in consideration to include and secure the “Good Working Conditions in Tanneries (GOTAN)” (initiative) with the stipulated deadline for completion set in April 2025. This GOTAN initiative is set to be implemented by the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE), which operates under the purview of the Ministry of Labour and Employment (MoLE). The proposed initiative aims to bolster the existing institutional framework in order to cultivate a more robust adherence to occupational safety and health regulations within the tannery sector in specific regions of Bangladesh.
Germany in Bangladesh’s Sustainable Development and Climate Action
The Sundarbans and tanneries projects, which have received a significant 4-million-euro German grant, serve as a testament to Germany’s unwavering dedication to bolstering Bangladesh’s endeavors in climate action and sustainability. The Sundarbans, renowned as the world’s largest mangrove forest and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, stand as an invaluable ecological treasure. Germany’s technical assistance is expected to play a pivotal role in bolstering the monitoring, coordination, and integrated management efforts aimed at safeguarding this crucial ecosystem.
Apart from this recent development, Germany has long been assisting Bangladesh in diverse development arenas. To be particularly mentioned, early September this year, the governments of Bangladesh and Germany demonstrated their commitment to advancing Development Cooperation by signing two significant bilateral agreements regarding energy, sustainable development, and many significant sectors. These agreements serve as a follow-up to the commitments made during the previous negotiations held in December last year. Germany, however, has pledged to provide financial assistance of Tk2,215 crore (equivalent to €191 million) to Bangladesh. This aid is intended to support the execution of 13 projects that focus on various areas such as energy transition, supply chain management, sustainable urban development, biodiversity conservation, and women empowerment. The German embassy has stated that the collective value of the agreements stands at €191 million, out of which amount, €55 million has been allocated for Technical Cooperation (TC) purposes, while €136 million has been earmarked for Financial Cooperation (FC) initiatives.
However, given the existential peril posed by climate change, the initiative is expected to play a crucial role in providing essential assistance for adaptation and improving resilience. Germany is also providing support for research on blue carbon and ecosystem services in order to establish the economic rationale for conservation efforts. The initiative serves as Germany’s tangible contribution to Bangladesh’s endeavors in addressing climate change and attaining its Sustainable Development Goals, by aiding in the preservation of the biodiverse Sundarbans and ensuring its future security.
Boosting Bangladesh’s Technical Capacity
Apart from notable progress in sustainable development arena and SDGs, Bangladesh has a 30% of deficiency in technical skills across several critical domains. The recently signed initiatives leverage Germany’s distinctive technological expertise to contribute to the development of domestic capabilities in environmental governance and industrial sustainability. Germany’s proficiency can enhance several aspects of environmental management in the Sundarbans, including marine spatial planning, habitat restoration, climate-resilient infrastructure development, sustainable fisheries management, and blue carbon research. The institutionalization of these capacities will be facilitated by the implementation of knowledge transfer initiatives.
In a similar vein, in the tanning industry, Germany can play a significant role in the preservation and management of the overall tanning industry in which Bangladeshi technicians lack strong management capacity. Also, Germany’s knowledge and expertise in adhering to international labor and safety standards, ensuring workplace compliance, and managing global value chains may play a pivotal role in driving the adoption of sustainable practices and certifications throughout the leather sector. The acquisition of technical skills and exposure via the initiatives will even continue contributing to the sector after the conclusion of Germany’s involvement boosting the competency of this sector.
However, on the whole, the German-Bangladesh bilateral rapport and development cooperation has a sound track record of ensuring well-being in various areas such as mitigation and adaptation to climate change, infrastructure development, poverty reduction, promotion of good governance, renewable energy transition, support for the Rohingya and host communities as well as underscoring the repatriation of the displaced people. Additionally, the recent focus on initiatives related to Sundarbans management, marine environment protection, and the tannery and leather industry also marks a positive trend in the bilateral relationship. By safeguarding and preserving the invaluable natural resources of Sundarbans and enhancing industrial practices to the competitive advantage and market accessibility of the strategically significant leather sector, particularly in relation to European markets characterized by stringent labor requirements, the recent agreements, without any doubt, would signify the ongoing success of bilateral cooperation and will play a role in the attainment of the SDGs, climate goals, and other strategic interests in both sides.
– Kawsar Uddin Mahmud is a Research Intern at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).