The Dutch presence in the Bengal
- The Dutch presence in the region started in 1630 with the establishment of a trading post at Pipili in the mouth of Subarnarekha River in Odisha.
- They obtained trading rights from the Mughal government on the condition that they would pay 3% customs duties on exports.
- After the departure of the Portuguese from Hughli in 1632, the Dutch obtained a new Parwana from the Subahdar Azam Khan in 1634 to establish a factory at Hughli. However, it was not until sometime between 1645 and 1647 that the company established the factory at Hughli.
- Between 1633 and 1638, the Dutch opened factories in Orissa and Patna but these were closed soon after.
- The Dutch opened a factory at Dhaka in the early 1650s at the place where the Mitford now stands and they had a garden house at Tejgaon.
- Aurangzeb, in his early years, had exempted the Dutch from payment of transit duties throughout Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa and had fixed the customs duties at 4% at Hughli and 3% at Pipli and Balasore.
- Bengal’s share in the average annual value of Asian commodities exported to Holland by the Dutch company was around 40 per cent in the early eighteenth century. Again, 50% of textiles and 80% of silks were imported from Bengal to the Dutch Empire.
- In November 1759, the English seized the Dutch factory at Baranagar while the Dutch landed troops on the Sankrael Reach. The English won the naval battle. The English defeated the Dutch at Badera. The battle of Badera effectively put an end to Dutch power in India.
Bangladesh and the Netherlands have a long history of cooperation which started even before the creation of Bangladesh (e.g., water cooperation commenced in 1965). Bilateral relations grew steadily since the Netherlands became one of the first countries in Europe to recognize Bangladesh as an independent country (on 11 February 1972, including the establishment of Embassy in Dhaka) and commenced its development assistance thereafter for the socio-economic development of Bangladesh. Bangladesh opened a resident Mission in The Hague on 7 November 1995 at the Ambassadorial level. Currently, the Netherlands is one of the top investors and trading partners in Bangladesh.
The bilateral relationship between Bangladesh and the Netherlands catapulted to its zenith following two VVIP visits in 2015, back-to-back, in a space of less than a month. Following the official visit of Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to the Netherlands on 3-5 November 2015, the Queen of the Netherlands Her Majesty Máxima visited Bangladesh from 16 to 19 November in her role as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development.
Queen Máxima’s visits to Bangladesh highlighted the importance of financial inclusion as a key driver of economic growth and development, and underscored the Netherlands’ commitment to supporting efforts to promote financial inclusion and sustainable development in Bangladesh.
Shifting to (new) Development Cooperation policy (2022)
The Netherlands is updating its policy for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation for Bangladesh. As Bangladesh will officially graduate from the LDC status in 2026, the Dutch side announced to end their aid-projects to Bangladesh in 2030 and shift the resource to other LDC countries. However, due to existing excellent bilateral relations between the two countries, the Foreign Ministry officials from the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs has informed that Bangladesh would now place at “combination country” with other South Asian neighbours, including India. As the combination country, Dutch activities in Bangladesh would be shifting “from aid to trade”, meaning they would link e.g., food and water programs to the private sectors.
In 2020 The Netherlands overtook China to become the top foreign direct investor in Bangladesh. Bangladesh received $2.56 billion foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2020, of which 15.6 percent or $400.21 million came from the Netherlands (Bangladesh Bank).
This alliance is further aided as the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) has instituted liberal investment and business operation policies regarding taxation, import duties, work documentation and capital repatriation among others, as such that it encourages further foreign investment in the secondary and tertiary sector of the country.
Year-wise Dutch FDI to Bangladesh
Sector-wise investment (2020)
|Food processing||$183.47 million|
|Power sector||$174 million|
|Textile and weaving||$6.18 million|
|Leather and leather goods||$2.23 million|
The prior investment patterns of the Netherlands indicates further diversification and investments in the following sectors [not limited to]:
- RMG and Textiles
Trade with the Netherlands has gained traction in the past few years. This has helped open up new opportunities for the local industries of both Bangladesh and its Dutch counterparts. The surge in both exports and imports is pushing towards greater innovation, strategic commitment and efficiency.
The Netherlands stood the 9th largest export destination of Bangladeshi goods in FY 2019-2020 worth of US$ 1098.68. Bangladesh’s major export products to the Netherlands are knitwear, woven garments, shrimps and prawns, footwear, home textiles, leather products, bicycles, etc. Bangladesh imported goods from the Netherlands worth of €267.0 million in 2019. Bangladesh imports machineries, vegetable products, live animals, prepared food stuffs, animal or vegetable fats and oils, mineral products, chemical products, pharmaceutical products, organic chemicals, plastic and rubber articles, etc. from the Netherlands.
Bangladesh’s Top Export Destination
Over the past few years, the relationship has gradually evolved from a single focus on development cooperation to a stronger emphasis on trade and investment, creating opportunities for Dutch and Bangladeshi companies to do business.
The bilateral relations between Bangladesh and the Netherlands are now going through a transition from traditional aid-donor relationship to economic partnership. As Bangladesh is set to graduate from the LDC status and be a middle-income country by 2026, the development cooperation will be phasing out gradually and we need to put emphasis on creating new opportunities for the business/private sector to forge meaningful partnerships in targeted areas like agriculture, water, infrastructure, leather/footwear, ICT, Blue Economy and port development, etc.
Cooperation between Bangladesh and the Netherlands largely started with water sector cooperation which goes back over half a century. Both countries have been working together on flood management, drainage, river basin management, and coastal zone management – creating safe polders and making land available for the landless. And together with NGOs and the private sector, access to safe water and sanitation for millions of people in Bangladesh has been improved. Dutch companies, NGOs, and knowledge institutes have been playing an instrumental role in Bangladesh’s water sector with their experience, expertise, and innovative solutions.
Since the initiation of the cooperation programme, an integrated and comprehensive approach has been taken in a participatory manner for water resources management, as well as technical approaches. Early Implementation Projects (EIP) started in 1975, are an illustration of a direct implementation to develop water management infrastructures. The Delta Development Project (1976) and Land Reclamation Projects (1977) came up with a more integrated and participatory approach. A balance between the socio-economic development and technical development of water management has been achieved by means of the Compartmentalization Project (1990), System Rehabilitation Project (1990), Char Development and Settlement Project (1994) and so on.
The contribution to the recently started Water Management Improvement Project (2007) is also noteworthy and an example of integrated water resources management. These different water management projects initiated the concept of participatory water resources management in Bangladesh and created stakeholder ownership with regard to the projects.
Cooperation in Water Sector Management: At a Glance
1956 – 1964: ‘Flood Action Plan’
1960 Onwards: ‘Polders’ Policy
1964: ‘Thijsse Hydrology Report’
1972: Dredging Agreement
1975 – 1992: Early Implementation Project
1987: Flood Action Plan
1996 – 2002: Participatory Water Management (PWM)
1999-2004: National Water Policy 1999, National Water Management Plan 2004, The Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan 2005 And The Bangladesh Water Act. 2013
2003-2011: Integrated Planning for Sustainable Water Management
2010: Global Water Programme
Coastal Zone Management
The Delta Development Project started in 1976 with a vision to achieve an integrated development of land, water and human resources, in South-west Bangladesh. The Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan is also a milestone project funded by the Dutch government, where steps have been taken to create conditions, resulting in the reduction of poverty, the development of sustainable livelihoods and the integration of the coastal zone into a national process. Initiatives of the Netherlands government for the coastal region of Bangladesh are therefore contributing to land zoning, resource utilization, environmental sustainability, poverty alleviation and safeguarding people against natural disasters or climate change.
The Netherlands has been working in Bangladesh in the sectors of poverty alleviation, increased agricultural productivity, changes in land tenure, changes in employment and income, and social services. The CDSP and BLUE Gold projects/program in particular resulted in an increase in socioeconomic development.
Under the umbrella of the Dutch M/o Foreign Affairs, CBI has been supporting the small-scale developing country (e.g. Bangladesh) producers to enter into Dutch market and EU distribution channels. In the process, CBI has been supporting exporters and business support organizations (BSOs) in Bangladesh in the Home Décor & Home Textiles (HDHT) sector that is helping them export handicrafts /handcrafted products from Bangladesh to Europe. The Embassy has been in discussion with CBI so that they keep Bangladesh as the ‘focus country’ even beyond their current policy cycle.
Food security is one of the key themes in the Netherlands’ development programme. Various projects carried out have always had the aim of promoting agriculture production, in order to achieve food security and to realize a sustainable situation. The System Rehabilitation Project started in 1990 is one example. Nowadays, the main emphasis is placed on managing water, in order to help improve and diversify agricultural production, aquaculture and livestock farming and to set up an effective control system for food security.
The past five decades has seen notable accomplishments in Bangladesh agriculture. This is manifest in Bangladesh featuring prominently in the global rankings in production of some of the key cereals or non-cereals and across diverse subs-sectors i.e. horticulture, livestock, fisheries, poultry. These led Bangladesh to securing food security and self-sufficiency for the population.
Appreciating the physical and business landscape and growing business interests in Bangladesh, the Dutch private entrepreneurs are showing growing interest to explore opportunities for collaboration with credible – responsible – transparent Bangladeshi entrepreneurs by sharing their knowledge and technology.
Capacity Building and Technical Assistance between Wageningen University & Research and M/o Agriculture to transform Bangladesh agriculture
Hon’ble Minister of Agriculture Dr. Md. Abdur Razzak visited the Netherlands in November 2021 and in July 2022. During his first visit, the Embassy first drafted an MoU to be inked between Wageningen University & Research and our Agriculture Ministry. During Dr. Razzak’s second visit, he had fruitful meeting with the President of the Wageningen University and Research and requested her support for developing Bangladesh’s Agri-business sector. They both exchanged notes and WUR president expressed her support on this matter. After this meeting, WUR, with support from the Embassy had meetings with the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, Bangladesh Agriculture Research Council and other stakeholders. As a result, the Ministry of Agriculture is under process of getting assistance from WUR to carry out research projects and will get support on Capacity building and Technical Assistance in the field of life sciences and agricultural solutions. Three pilot projects (in crop – horticulture – livestock) have already been initiated by WUR under funding from the Ministry of Agriculture of Bangladesh.
Recognizing the growing market and the potential to convert the endemic issues as also convert the ‘challenges into opportunities’ bringing the Dutch agro knowledge – technology – innovation to Bangladesh, by end-2021, the Dutch Enterprise Agency (RVO) has conducted eight (8) Market Scans (Seed, Feed, Horticulture, Poultry, Fisheries, Leather, Floriculture, Protected Horticulture). Several Dutch business delegations have visited Bangladesh since. These eminently illustrate potential to form mutually gainful partnerships in Bangladesh with the Dutch entrepreneurs, SMEs, companies. Furthermore, implementation of the Bangladesh Delta Plan can open up opportunities for transformative undertakings through agriculture sector. Foremost, the Dutch private sector and agro-knowledge community is increasingly recognizing business worthiness in Bangladesh, on ‘win-win basis’.
Cooperation between Bangladesh and the Netherlands in the fisheries and water sector goes back since our independence. Both the countries have worked together on flood management, drainage, river basin management and coastal zone management-creating safe polders and making land available for the landless.
Considering the challenges and potentiality of fisheries sector, the Embassy is working with the CBI and the Wageningen University for their technical assistance in higher production and international branding of fisheries specially shrimp.
LightCastle and Larive International, in collaboration with the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO), conducted a study that derives from the Netherlands multiannual strategy 2019-2022 on Bangladesh. The Netherlands has a strong reputation in terms of innovativeness and sustainability in the international aquaculture sector, being home to global leading players in aqua genetics and feed and fish and shrimp importers. Hence, the Netherlands, with its knowledge and technologies, could play an important role in tackling the future challenges faced in the aquaculture sector in Bangladesh, while positioning itself as a partner for the local private sector in exploring and capturing market opportunities.
Bangladesh Embassy in The Hague continued facilitation of knowledge and innovation in 2019 resulting in the signing of an MOU between Bangladesh Shrimp & Fish Foundation and Hendrix Genetics Aquaculture BV of the Netherlands on 27 February 2019 in The Hague, for the latter’s support to private sector initiatives and extension of assistance to make the transition to sustainable farming of Specific Pathogen Free (SPF) and Specific Pathogen Resistant (SPR) stocks of domesticated varieties of shrimp.
The Netherlands is known for its advanced and innovative poultry sector, with a focus on animal welfare, food safety, and sustainability. The Dutch poultry sector has developed advanced technologies and production systems that allow for high levels of efficiency and productivity, while also minimizing environmental impact. These technologies have been adapted and adopted by many countries around the world, including Bangladesh. In recent years, the Dutch government has been actively engaged in promoting cooperation and technology transfer in the poultry sector between the Netherlands and Bangladesh. The goal of these initiatives is to support the development of a more sustainable and efficient poultry sector in Bangladesh, which can help to improve food security, promote economic growth, and reduce environmental impact.
Bangladesh and the Netherlands signed the Framework of Intent on Knowledge and Innovation Partnership for Sustainable Development during the Dutch twin ministerial visit to Bangladesh in June 2015. The Intent calls for endeavoring to engage all possible actors and stakeholders in identifying the existing and potential areas and opportunities for collaboration in the development/generation of knowledge and advancement/promotion of innovation for sustainable development; and explore opportunities for engagements for developing competencies and skills as well as future skill requirements within respective national economies, across different manufacturing and service sectors and specific industries, conventional vocational streams; and consider taking measures/draw initiatives towards training, enhancement of knowledge and up-gradation of skills.
The Embassy, in partnership with the ICT Division, launched an “Bangladesh-Netherlands IT connects” IT portal (8 January 2022). Our State Minister for Information & Communication Technology Division, Zunaid Ahmed Palak, MP inaugurated the portal virtually. It came out that around 70+ Bangladesh digital technology firms are already at work with their Dutch peers. This IT Portal, hosted on the Embassy web, is to engage entrepreneurs, start-ups from Bangladesh with their Dutch peers.
The Embassy is continuously engaged with The Eindhoven International Project Office (EIPO)/Brainport. Brainport is regarded as the “smartest one square kilometre in Europe” i.e. European Silicon Valley equivalent. EIPO is heavily involved in Vietnam for 8 years now and significantly attracting FDI to one of the Vietnamese Province. At our instance, for the first time, they visited Bangladesh in April 2022 to evaluate Bangladesh market and industry. They returned convinced that they could expand their engagements in Bangladesh i.e. in changing the landscape of Bangladesh’s IT sector. With Embassy’s sincere efforts the Bangladeshi Tech-giant WALTON singed an MoU with the Dutch Design Academy in Eindhoven, where EIPO will manage the collaboration between these two as per provisions of the MoU.
Netherlands is regarded as the pioneering country in Europe in digitalization. This has created very significant opportunity for Bangladesh tap into the Netherlands digital industry. Already Dutch IT entrepreneurs and SMEs have started exploring collaboration or joint venture projects with Bangladeshi IT firms. In the past few years, the number of Bangladeshi IT professional in the Netherlands have also increased, particularly in the Eindhoven.
The Netherlands is heavily engaged in port development and management in Bangladesh. They are active in Payra Sea Port project. Nuffic, through its OKP program is implementing a Capacity Development project in Port development and management.
- Orange Knowledge Programme – OKP is an initiative of Nuffic. This program focuses on two thematic areas, namely SRHR and Gender, and Integrated Food and Nutrition Security (FNS), including water management and climate. Under the umbrella of the latter, several sub-areas are identified, such as Maritime development including port development and Blue Economy. Many OKP projects and other activities can be seen as successful examples for showing the (long-term) impact of the program.
- The Orange Knowledge Programme offers individual scholarships to mid-career professionals. Scholarships are offered for short courses and master’s programs at Dutch education institutions. They also offer Tailor-Made Training courses for a maximum of 12 months for Bangladesh. The OKP also offers Institutional collaboration capacity.
- The Embassy has regular communication with the Nuffic and request them to provide more scholarship to the Bangladeshi students. It is observed that they are shifting their policy from Asia to Africa. We are in negotiations with them to keep Bangladesh in their next scheme policy.
- The Dutch Clingendael Institute for Diplomatic Studies has been hosting Bangladesh’s junior diplomats every year.
- The Embassy has been continuing engagements with the relevant Dutch Agencies CBI (Centre for promotion of imports from the developing countries) for capacity building in Bangladesh. The CBI, along with their traditional activities including improving branding skill for the select companies of home décor sectors for the exports of Bangladesh to the EU, undertook a project for the capacity building of EPB in organizing trade fairs abroad.
- The Embassy has remained actively engaged with the Dutch public-private sector entities along with knowledge institutions of the Netherlands for jute-based products diversification and export of jute-based products to the EU.
Orange Corners is an initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands that provides young entrepreneurs across Africa, Asia and the Middle East with training, mentorship, network, funding, and facilities to start and grow their businesses. We support innovative solutions to local challenges that contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The programme is implemented in partnership with various stakeholders to support and strengthen local entrepreneurial ecosystems.
In Bangladesh, the Orange Corners programme aims to enable Bangladeshi youth with skills, funding and resources to build sustainable businesses, so we can create an inclusive and equitable entrepreneurship ecosystem. We focus on providing young entrepreneurs with resources and support for their business ideas and enterprises, specifically empowering female entrepreneurs to address issues such as youth unemployment and gender inequality. The post-incubation phase provides continued support to connect startups with investors and access to finance, improving investment readiness and supporting the growth of small and medium enterprises. We also encourage collaboration between government, private sectors, and academia, promoting holistic development and supporting sustainable solutions to local problems. With a focus on empowering young entrepreneurs and promoting sustainable development, Orange Corners has the potential to drive economic growth and support the continued development of Bangladesh’s economy.
It is estimated that Bangladesh has $120 trillion-ocean resources. As the Netherlands has vast experience in exploring sea sources, Bangladesh can offer the EU country tapping the blue economy on a win-win basis.
The Netherlands, through Nuffic is implementing capacity-building projects for Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Maritime University that will ultimately help Bangladesh to harness the blue economy. The University works together with Chittagong Port Authority in a consortium with Nuffic Neso, IHE Delft and STC Group, a knowledge institution for the shipping, transport, and port industry.
The Netherlands and Bangladesh have been cooperating in the defence sector for several years, with a focus on areas such as shipbuilding, maritime security, and disaster relief. Dutch shipbuilding companies such as Damen, Royal IHC, and Thales BV are active in Bangladesh and have played a key role in the country’s efforts to expand its naval capabilities.
In 2022, a 23-member delegation from the Bangladesh National Defence College visited the Netherlands for the first time, as part of efforts to enhance defence cooperation between the two countries. During the visit, the delegation met with senior officials from the Dutch Ministry of Defence, as well as representatives from Dutch defence companies and research institutions.
The visit provided an opportunity for the Bangladesh National Defence College delegation to learn about the Netherlands’ defence capabilities and expertise in areas such as maritime security, cyber security, and peacekeeping operations. It also provided an opportunity for the two countries to discuss potential areas for further cooperation, such as joint training exercises and technology transfer.
Overall, the visit by the Bangladesh National Defence College delegation underscores the growing importance of defence cooperation between Bangladesh and the Netherlands, as both countries seek to enhance their defence capabilities and contribute to regional and global security.
The workforce of the RMG sector in Bangladesh lacks appropriate training and hence their productivity is less than that of other RMG producing countries. Moreover, mid-level management positions in this sector are heavily occupied by other nationals specially Indians and Sri Lankans taking the advantage of scarcity of our RMG mid-management resource pool. The Nuffic can come forward in devising appropriate mechanism to provide technical training to RMG workforce in different Dutch educational institutions including Amsterdam Fashion Institute, Amsterdam Jean School, etc. An LOI or MoU on up-scaling of the value chain in the RMG sector of Bangladesh through academic collaboration between appropriate educational institutions of Bangladesh including the BGMEA University of Fashion and Technology, and the Netherlands including Amsterdam Fashion Institute, Amsterdam Jean School, etc. can be explored.
The Netherlands is one of the top ten RMG export destinations for Bangladesh.
Bangladesh and the Netherlands share one thing in common: both are situated in low-lying lands, making them prone to floods and other water management issues. Around 40% of the Netherlands lies below sea level, while 70% of Bangladesh’s land is within 1 meter to 3 meters above sea level. Owing to their shared struggles, cooperation between the two countries has intensified in recent decades.
- On 25 January 2021 Hon’ble Prime Minister joined the opening session of the Climate Adaptation Summit 2021 (organized by the Netherlands) with a pre-recorded video message.
- On 7 October 2021, high-level delegations from Bangladesh and the Netherlands met at the CVF Leaders Event at the sideline of the UNGA 2020.
- On 8 September 2020, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, H.E. Mark Rutte extended a pre-recorded video message on the occasion of the launching of the regional office (South Asia) of Global Centre on Adaptation.
- In September 2021 Hon’ble Foreign Minister visited the Netherlands on 05-08 September 2021. During the official visit, Hon’ble Foreign Minister met addressed the global climate-youth champions at the University of Groningen in Frysland Campus.
- HSM met with Mark Herbers in Sep 2022
- HFM met with Merk Herbers in Sherm Al Sheikh-Cop, UN Water Conference
- In 2022, the UN issued an emergency call for all governments to take coordinated and accelerated actions for global climate resilience (IPCC 2022). It urged for a joint commitment and a proactive approach among governments, scientists and practitioners, especially in deltas, coastal areas and small islands, to develop an integrated systems approach to adaptation and resilience building. In response to that call, the Netherlands Ministry of Infrastructure and Water management, supported in its founding phase by Deltares, the Global Center on Adaptation and the Delta Alliance have joined forces to launch the ‘International Panel for Deltas, Coastal Areas and Islands’ (IPDC) with policymakers, academics, investors and practitioners worldwide. Bangladesh is one of the founding members of this initiative.
- By connecting multiple layers of policy and decision-making, financing, knowledge development and practice, the IPDC aims to leverage the power of multi-actor collaboration. To facilitate this, the IPDC visions and activities stand on a three-layered approach: The policy and finance layer: the champions group consists of high-level leaders for political and financial commitment and leadership. The science layer: the science panel consists of top-level scientists and adaptation experts linking shared knowledge to local planning and implementation needs. The implementation layer: the action holders consists of knowledge networks and implementation agencies working with local and international experts to support accelerated actions on the ground. The IPDC works demand driven to support its member countries and islands on their climate adaptation strategy or plan (NAP). Its also deals with integrated Water Resources Management challenges related to climate change.
Multilateral and International Cooperation
Bangladesh and the Netherlands maintain close cooperate in different international and multilateral organisations, including the United Nations, Human Rights Council, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), International Criminal Court (ICC), Permanent Court of Arbitration, Common Fund for Commodities (CFC), etc. Bangladesh and the Netherlands work closely on multilateral and international issues, including 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, international peace and security, climate change, and repatriation of forcibly displaced Rohingya people, etc.