Parveen Hassan is a community campaigner, and Head of Communications for Conservatives Friends of Bangladesh.
In 2018, London is hosting the Commonwealth Summit. Recently, Lord Ahmad, the Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the United Nations, pledged to strengthen the relationship between UK and Bangladesh. During his two day visit to Bangladesh, he reinforced the UK’s commitment to deepening trade relations and co-operation with Bangladesh amongst other global issues.
In March, we also saw the first Bangladesh-UK strategic dialogue held to reaffirm the deep and enduring relationship based upon shared values and common goals. Both countries signed a memorandum of understanding on political and bilateral issues, economic and development cooperation, security and defence cooperation.
The UK has always had a long-standing and positive relationship with Bangladesh, with strong cultural ties. Goldman Sachs listed Bangladesh in their ‘Next 11’ economies, with high potential to become one of the world’s largest economies in the 21st century. The UK is one of the major investors in Bangladesh and the third largest export destination for Bangladeshi textiles. The UK exported £450 million of goods and services to Bangladesh within the last decade. The UK’s main exports to Bangladesh were nuclear reactors, boilers, machinery, and mechanical appliances, iron and steel and residues from waste from the food industries. Almost 100 UK businesses operate in Bangladesh, including well-known companies like HSBC, Unilever and GSK.
Bangladesh has been enjoying duty privilege under the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme. Highlighted in the Financial Express in February 2017, Bangladesh seeks more trade benefits from post-Brexit UK. Bangladesh is also fortunate enough to be part of Horizon 2020, the biggest EU research and innovation programme with a budget of almost €80 billion to fund collaborative research projects through science and technology, tapping into its resources and exploring the country’s potential.
Bangladesh is going through infrastructure and development; the Ready-Made Garment (RMG) industry in Bangladesh, has been a crucial part of Bangladesh’s economic success story within the last 30 years, and is expected to play a leading role in fulfilling Bangladesh’s ambition to become a middle income country by 2021. The industry is now worth almost $25 billion.
The world focussed its attention on Bangladesh, during the Rana Plaza disaster, when a factory collapsed, killing over 1,100 people. I contemplated if Bangladesh would recover from the devastating impact on its people, reputation, and economy, leaving Bangladesh in disarray with regard to future investment opportunities. Images of 2013 still haunt many, as we continue to raise awareness to improve working conditions and infrastructure.
This September, Conservatives Friends of Bangladesh is taking its fourth delegation of business leaders, parliamentarians and volunteers to the country as part of Project Shapla. One of the Project’s many aims is to encourage and raise awareness of private investment to help more people adapt for the future, and strengthening key democratic systems and institutions sponsored by generous donors from the British Bangladeshi community. We hope the sustained dialogue remains strong between both countries. British Bangladeshis make a huge contribution to the UK economy and go further to develop and build a better quality of life for the people of Bangladesh. Projects like Shapla allow us to further build on the positive links between both countries.
The UK is already one of the largest grant donors to Bangladesh, and the work achieved by the Department for International Development (DFID) has yielded successes that we should be proud of, providing access to jobs and developing skills to increase income for the poorest.
Whilst Bangladesh is not aid-dependent, in total aid is about two per cent of the country’s GDP. This doesn’t deter the British Bangladeshi community in the business sector from exploring opportunities for private investment and securing incomes for the people of Bangladesh.
During the recent strategic dialogue, the UK and Bangladesh highlighted the crucial link the British Bangladeshi community provides between the two countries. At the Commonwealth Summit, Bangladesh truly has a great story to tell about its infrastructure progress, economic development, and the work it has done to empower women and girls through education and employment. The achievement of having two million women work in Bangladesh’s RMG sector alone is a success. I hope the UK continues to aid Bangladesh create wealth, prosperity and investment which is needed to build skills and capability for the people of Bangladesh. The British Bangladeshi community will continue to work to enhance the deep bonds between our countries, and reinforce the British values which are closely shared by the people of Bangladesh.