Dhaka Courier

Nordic countries eye stronger partnership with Bangladesh

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From Left: Swedish Ambassador to Bangladesh Charlotta Schlyter, Danish Ambassador to Bangladesh Winnie Estrup Petersen, Principal Research Fellow, ISAS, National University of Singapore & President of Cosmos Foundation Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, Cosmos Foundation Chairman Enayetullah Khan and Norwegian Ambassador to Bangladesh Sidsel Bleken at the Cosmos Dialogue Ambassadors’ Lecture Series

Solution to Rohingya crisis sought, responsibility lies with Myanmar

The five Nordic countries - Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden - all recognised Bangladesh on the same day, February 4, 1972. This early and decisive move to come out and endorse the nascent state spoke to the support for Bangladesh’s independence across the region in Northern Europe that these countries occupy.

In recent years, the countries have received a lot of attention for pioneering the so-called Nordic model - the social and economic system with certain common features said to prevail in the five constituent states. A number of comparative studies of economic and social performance have ranked the Nordics high. Similarly a number of cross-country comparisons have concluded that the Nordics indeed succeed better than other countries in combining economic efficiency and growth with a peaceful labour market, a fair distribution of income and social cohesion. The model is often pointed to as a source of inspiration for other people in their search for a better social and economic system.

Although it hasn’t been possible for all 5 of the Nordic countries to develop their bilateral ties with Bangladesh to the extent of having their own missions here, the three countries which did - the constitutional monarchies of Denmark, Sweden and Norway - did so very early on, and all three have since maintained a consistency and depth to their engagement with Bangladesh that have made them among our most important development partners. Indeed, a commitment to international development is almost an integral part of the Nordic model itself, if not as prominently flaunted as other features.

That Nordic commitment and contribution to international development is by no means limited only to Bangladesh. It should be noted here that it is their approach to development, as something more holistic than merely aid in the form of grants or ODAs that has set them apart. The Centre for Global Development’s Commitment to Development Index is an annual ranking of 27 of the wealthiest nations in the world by how well their policies help people in developing countries.

The last two editions of the index, in 2017 and 2018, saw the Nordic countries occupying each of the top three spots. The CGD’s president, Masood Ahmed, in a statement accompanying the 2018 index, states that:  "Good development policy is about much more than foreign aid."

That’s why the Commitment to Development Index incorporates the quality of a country’s aid as well, in ranking them. That means the aid program's efficiency, transparency and how well it fosters institutions and reduces the burden on the aid-recipient or developing nation is also taken into account. This is where the projects supported by SIDA, DANIDA and NORAD are said to have the edge.

Those are all aspects to the Nordic approach to international development that anyone in Bangladesh familiar with their work over the years would recognise.

The latest edition of the Cosmos Dialogue’s Ambassador Lecture Series held at Six Seasons Hotel in the city on February 29 explored Bangladesh’s vital relationship with the three Nordic countries that maintain a presence here, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, at a time when Bangladesh is entering a new phase in its own development trajectory - as it is set to become only the 6th nation to graduate out of the UN’s LDC grouping. Although this can only ever be a welcome development, it will also entail some adjustments in relations with the country’s development partners.

The Nordic countries have a strong tradition of working together, and in Bangladesh, Denmark, Norway and Sweden share joint Embassy premises. They also did a joint celebration of Nordic Day last October at Dhaka’s Nordic Club, where it was announced that Norway will be a candidate on behalf of all the Nordic countries for one of the rotating places in the UN’s Security Council for the period 2021-22.

It made perfect sense therefore, to organise this particular Dialogue by gathering all three of the countries’ ambassadors on the same platform to deliberate on their countries’ future relations with Bangladesh. A point to note about the ambassadors themselves is that they all happen to be women, reflecting yet another important and timely commitment by their nations in which they have taken the lead over the rest of the world, to women’s empowerment, and specifically putting women in leadership positions.

The ambassadors of three Nordic countries -- Denmark, Norway and Sweden -- promised to have a stronger partnership with Bangladesh with a focus on green growth and increased investment flow to help Bangladesh grow in a faster way.

The three countries also laid emphasis on ending Rohingya crisis through sustainable return of Rohingyas to their place of origin in Rakhine State safely reminding Myanmar that the responsibility lies there.

Danish Ambassador to Bangladesh Winnie Estrup Petersen, Norwegian Ambassador to Bangladesh Sidsel Bleken and Swedish Ambassador to Bangladesh Charlotta Schlyter shared their priority areas from renewable energy to blue economy, sustainable use of ocean resources, climate change and rights issues.

They also sought a more favourable environment for investment in Bangladesh removing barriers as there is a growing interest from the Nordic companies in Bangladesh.

Stronger collaboration with both the private and public sectors with focus on green growth, innovation and sustainability, IT, telecom, and energy issues were highlighted for prosperous Nordic-Bangladesh partnership in the years to come.

Issues related to labour rights and other rights ones, the role of private sector, ocean pollution, climate change, river pollution, air pollution, women rights and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also came up for discussions at the dialogue.

They said for successful private sector collaboration with further growth and more job creation, there must be further progress in Bangladesh’s ease of doing business and competitiveness saying this will enable Bangladesh to enter the global scene with full-fledged economic force and help attract more FDI.

Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, Principal Research Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, chaired and conducted the symposium titled 'Bangladesh and Nordic Countries: Prognosis for Partnership’ while Cosmos Foundation Chairman Enayetullah Khan delivered welcome remarks.

Cosmos Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Cosmos Group, hosted the symposium as part of Cosmos Dialogue Ambassadors’ Lecture Series.

The ambassadors stationed in Dhaka laid emphasis on resolving Rohingya crisis noting that the order of the top UN court -- International Court of Justice (ICJ) -- with provisional measures is an important step on accountability front.

“Norway has repeatedly said that the responsibility for creating a conducive environment that ensures the return of Rohingays lies on the government of the Myanmar,” said Norwegian Ambassador Bleken.

She said the ICJ order on provisional measures under the Genocide Convention is an important step towards ensuring protection of Rohingyas. “The order is legally binding and we expect Myanmar to fully implement the order.”

Appreciating Bangladesh’s role, she said Norway will continue its humanitarian efforts for Rohingyas and the host communities apart from continuing their dialogue with Myanmar to solve the situation.

Swedish Ambassador Schlyter said it will be important that Rohingyas can return home and responsibility rests on Myanmar for making their “voluntary, safe and sustainable” return possible.

She said there is also an issue of accountability and her country welcomed the ICJ order on provisional measures. “We expect Myanmar to comply with them.”

The Swedish Ambassador appreciated Bangladesh’s role in dealing with the Rohingyas and assured that they will continue to do their part both for the Rohingyas and the host communities.

Danish Ambassador Winnie Estrup Petersen laid emphasis on building peace in Myanmar and addressing the accountability issues for atrocities committed against Rohingyas in Rakhine State. She hoped that Rohingya people, one day, will be able to return to their homes safely.

The Danish Ambassador said Bangladesh is so blessed with vibrant youth population and they need to be engaged and heard ensuring that opinions are freely exchanged. “That’s crucial for the future of this young democracy. We must listen to the diversity…they hold the key of the future.”

She said Bangladesh is one of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world and much more will be needed to protect the livelihoods of millions of people in Bangladesh.

As the Bangladesh’s economy grows and increases, the Danish Ambassador said there is need to look at how emissions can be reduced and take care of the environment -- the air, water and land and biodiversity.

Norwegian Ambassador Bleken appreciated the whole-of-society approach of Bangladesh and assured their support for implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

She said not only economic growth, it is also strong institutions and the rule of law that are necessary to reach the SDGs. “We’ll continue to cooperate with Bangladesh in the areas of health, agriculture, gender equality and governance issues.”

The Norwegian envoy also said they will continue to focus on climate change, sustainable use of ocean resources, education, private sector development, human rights and humanitarian assistance as main priority areas.

She thinks that the flow of foreign direct investment in Bangladesh is still low compared to opportunities it offers.

“Bangladesh should be an interesting market for Nordic companies,” said the envoy putting emphasis on predictability, willingness to follow internationally accepted dispute resolution mechanism for more investment.

The Norwegian envoy said Telenor-Grameenphone has been a great success story in Bangladesh and hoped that Norwegian investment will continue to increase in Bangladesh.

Swedish Ambassador Schlyter said there is no doubt that the development cooperation between Bangladesh and Sweden represents a remarkable journey helping people lift out of poverty.

The Nordic Ambassador recognised the strong cooperation with Bangladesh noting that their cooperation has been successful.

Terming their partnership with Bangladesh "very deep and long-lasting one", the ambassadors said their countries have more to gain.

Dr Iftekhar said the purpose to have such extremely productive discussion is to allow the thought leaders interact among themselves with diplomats and Foreign Ministry representatives on core issues.

He believes that the efforts that Cosmos Foundation are making in order to put inputs into government policies is taking shape or will be taking shape someway bringing results to enhance the quality of decision making.

Enayetullah Khan said Bangladesh enjoys very good relationship with the Nordic countries and termed the relations as all-weather friendship.

He mentioned that the Nordic countries were a source of support and succour from the start, beginning as donors, and then transforming themselves into development partners and now into collaborators across a wide spectrum of economic growth and progress.

“Bangladesh has also enthusiastically embraced them, and together we’ve weaved a net of cooperation that is worthy of global emulation,” he said.

Khan said the Nordic commitment and contribution to international development is by no means reflected only in Bangladesh. “I should stress here the emphasis on international development, and not just aid in the form of grants or ODAs.”

Former Ambassador Farooq Sobhan, former adviser to caretaker government Rasheda K Chowdhury, former Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Md Nojibur Rahman, foreign affairs experts, civil society members, business leaders and senior journalists attended the event.

  • Swedish Ambassador to Bangladesh Charlotta Schlyter
  • Norwegian Ambassador to Bangladesh Sidsel Bleken
  • Danish Ambassador to Bangladesh Winnie Estrup Petersen
  • Nordic countries eye stronger partnership with Bangladesh
  • Vol 36
  • Issue 35
  • DhakaCourier

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