Bangladesh and European Union (EU) celebrated fifty years of its partnership this year. From an aid dependent country, Bangladesh has become an economic and strategic partner of the EU. In the words of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, “The EU and Bangladesh have been reliable and trusted partners for 50 years. Now, we are taking this partnership even further, to reap the opportunities of the green transition under Global Gateway.” The EU official website also acknowledges that Bangladesh “has made significant progress over the past decades in human development, poverty reduction and economic growth, allowing it to graduate to Middle Income Country status in 2026”. The visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Brussels to participate at Global Gateway Forum took Bangladesh-EU relations to a new height. PM Hasina’s visit to Brussels and its impacts on Bangladesh-EU Relations can be analyzed in several ways.
First, on 25 October, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina launched the negotiations on a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement to expand and develop the relationship between the EU and Bangladesh. This Partnership and Cooperation Agreement will create new possibilities in Bangladesh-EU relations which might be imperative to the betterment of the people of Bangladesh. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that “We are confident that this initiative will enable developing countries such as Bangladesh to fight climate change, to address infrastructure gaps, invest in renewable energy, digital innovation, healthcare, education and much more.”
Second, Bangladesh and EU signed €400m partnership deal for renewable energy which will be crucial for the pursuit of Bangladesh’s energy security. Bangladesh is a rising economic power with immense potentials. In order to explore and harness the potentials, the uninterrupted supply of energy becomes crucial. In addition, EU is one of the key destinations for Bangladesh’s ready-made garments export which creates win-win situation. Thus, to ensure timely delivery of the ready-made garment orders from EU countries, uninterrupted supply of energy to garment factories becomes necessary. In this context, Bangladesh-EU energy cooperation becomes necessary.
Third, Bangladesh and EU also signed five additional cooperation actions, worth €70 million, supporting education (€30 million), to promote the decent work agenda, to scale up green construction, to boost effective digital governance, and to prevent gender-based violence in public spaces in the country (€10 million in each case). EU support in these sectors will be imperative to improve the lives of the people of Bangladesh.
Fourth, EU is now Bangladesh’s largest trading partner. Bangladesh exports goods worth US$24 billion to the EU and enjoys the GSP facility, which will be expired by 2029. In a meeting with the President of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked GSP plus facility for Bangladesh after its LDC graduation. In the word of Sheikh Hasina, “I hope that the EU will offer GSP+ to Bangladesh to support our development following our LDC graduation in 2026”. In this context, if EU agrees, GSP plus facility would bring positive outcome for Bangladesh.
Fifth, Bangladesh is now the world’s 35th largest economy and its 70-billion-dollar economy has grown into 465 billion in less than 15 years. And Bangladesh has the potential to become a regional trading hub for three billion people in the region. Thus, Bangladesh would be proper destination for European investments. In this context, while addressing the opening plenary session of the “Global Gateway Forum” conference, Bangladesh Prime Minister sought European investments in Bangladesh. She said that “I invite EU investors to explore the facilities in our Special Economic Zones and Hi-Tech Parks. We need investment in cold chain networks to preserve our agricultural outputs”. Thus, promoting EU investment in Bangladesh can create win-win situation.
Sixth, the visit also provided an impetus to internationalize Rohingya issue and sought European cooperation to ensure a safe and successful Rohingya refugee repatriation to Myanmar. In a meeting with Bangladesh Prime Minister, European Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarcic commended Bangladesh’s generous role in hosting more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees and announced additional €10.5 million assistance for the Rohingyas.
Seventh, the outcome of the visit might be imperative to deepen Bangladesh-EU maritime cooperation. As Bangladesh PM sought EU cooperation in the pursuit of maritime resources in a sustainable manner. Sheikh Hasina said that “We can benefit from the EU’s expertise in the sustainable use of marine resources.” In fact, proper utilization of marine resources holds the future for Bangladesh.
Finally, forging partnership with EU becomes important for Bangladesh’s continued growth and development. For instance, alongside being the largest trading destination of Bangladesh, EU has provided €1 billion loan portfolio for Bangladesh since 2000 in shared areas of interest. However, one can also mention that both Bangladesh and EU needs each other for their win-win situation. In this context, Sheikh Hasina’s visit to Brussels is a milestone in creating new possibilities in Bangladesh-EU relations in the years ahead. This article also argues that in taking Bangladesh-EU relations to next level, non-state actors in Bangladesh, particularly the academic community, media, researchers, think tanks, and business community need to play a constructive role.
– Dr. Md. Shariful Islam is an Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of Rajshahi. He is also an adjunct research fellow at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA), Dhaka, Bangladesh.