Bangladesh-Netherlands bilateral relations
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 establishment of Embassy in Dhaka) and commenced its development assistance thereafter for socio-economic development of Bangladesh. Bangladesh opened resident Mission in The Hague on 7 November 1995 at Ambassadorial level. Currently the Netherlands is one of the top investors and trading partners of Bangladesh.
The bilateral relations between Bangladesh and the Netherlands are now going through a transition from traditional aid-donor relationship to “innovation” and “creativity” driven trade and investment relations. As Bangladesh is expected to be a middle income country by 2021 and therefore, 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, leather/footwear, ICT, Blue Economy and port development, etc.
The bilateral relationship got a great boost following two VVIP visits, 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.
Bangladesh and the Netherlands maintain an excellent bilateral trade relationship. Netherlands was the 10th largest export destination of Bangladeshi products for FY 2014-2015 accounting for about 2.69% of total export earnings of Bangladesh (US$ 31,208.94 million). Bangladesh exported goods worth US$ 840.34 million to the Netherlands and imported goods worth US$ 147.10 million during 2014-2015.
The products that we export to the Netherlands include woven garments, knitwear, bi-cycle, jute manufactures, jute yarn & twine, home textile, shrimps, footwear (leather), leather bags and purse, footwear (sports), terry towel, PVC bags, tobacco, ceramic tableware, pharmaceuticals, acrylic yarn, raw jute, toys, engineering products, etc.
The products that we mainly import from the Netherlands include 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, articles of wood, pulp of wood, textile & textile articles, articles of stone, base metals, etc.
The Netherlands and Bangladesh have been working together in the water sector even before our independence, particularly since 1965. Bangladesh and the Netherlands, two low lying delta countries, face similar problems and can learn from each other’s solutions. In the early years, the cooperation focused on rehabilitation and construction of infrastructure like embankments, bridges and polders. This was needed to reduce flooding risks and enhance agriculture. These interventions proved highly effective and successful and seemed to contribute significantly in Bangladesh becoming a self-sufficient in food production. However, during the 90’s it was realized that the thousands of kilometres of embankments and all the equipment could not be operated and maintained effectively by the authorities alone. The citizens help was also needed. By 2000 this led to a special government regulation making participatory water management through local communities the new way to go. Also it was realized that effective water management can only be realized if there are strong government institutions to design and implement the policies.
The MoU between the GoB and the GoN has been carried forward and “The Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 Formulation Project” was undertaken by the General Economics Division (GED), Planning Commission for implementation over a period of 30(thirty) months starting from March 2014 with cooperation and assistance of the Government of the Netherlands. An administrative arrangement and a contribution agreement to the effect of Dutch financing were concluded on 11-02-2014 and 24-03-2014 respectively between the Governments of Bangladesh and the Netherlands.
Food security is a new key theme within Bangladesh-Netherlands development programme. In Bangladesh emphasis has now been placed on the following areas: (a) Water management and food security, where main focus is on managing water to help improve and diversify agricultural production; (b) Aquaculture and livestock farming, which involves developing the aquaculture and livestock farming chain so that small-scale farmers can access national and international markets; and (c) Setting up an effective control system for food security that will help improve public health and stimulate trade, including water management that is linked to food production and market access.
The Netherlands program on food security aligns with the national food security plan of Bangladesh. The overarching goals are improving access to healthy food and fostering sustainable production. The Netherlands uses two entry points for its food security program: i) connecting food security interventions to the water sector, an area in which we have a strong recognition and deep experience in Bangladesh and ii) food security in relation to trade (import and export).
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. In this regard, the Embassy organized a visit of a CBI Mission to Bangladesh in March 2016 for their identifying areas of scope in assistance in higher production and promoting exports of frozen fish and shrimp.
After focusing on primary education in Bangladesh since 2000, the Netherlands decided to phase out its education funding for last few years, which however, excludes vocational education and training within their other focus areas. Currently, annually around 100 Bangladeshi students are following a programme of study under a grant awarded by the Netherlands Fellowship Programme (NFP), which is administered by the Netherlands Organisation for International Cooperation in Higher Education (Nuffic). Nuffic also runs the Netherlands Initiative for Capacity Development in Higher Education Institutions (NICHE), focusing on the key themes of Dutch development policy. The Dutch programmes in Bangladesh are partly financed through the Dutch contribution to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank, UN organisations and the European Commission. A number of Dutch civil society organisations are also active in Bangladesh, particularly in RMG, women/gender, and water sectors.
The Dutch Clingendael Institute for Diplomatic Studies has been hosting Bangladesh’s junior diplomats every year. As a follow-up of the LOI signed during the visit of the Hon’ble Prime Minister between the MFA of the Netherlands and MOFA of Bangladesh on training cooperation for junior diplomats from Bangladesh, 10 junior diplomats of Bangladesh attended a 6-week Clingendael Academy of the Netherlands.
For the implementation of the MOU and the MOA signed between the Saxion University and the BGMEA University of Fashion & Technology of Bangladesh (BUFT) during the official visit of the Hon’ble Prime Minister to the Netherlands, a 4-member high-level delegation of BUFT visited the Netherlands on 24-26 November 2016. During the visit, the BUFT delegation held a meeting with the School of Creative Technology of the Saxion University of Applied Sciences in this regard. As arranged by the Embassy, the BUFT delegation also took the opportunity to visit the prestigious Amsterdam Fashion Institute of the Netherlands for possible academic collaboration in future.
The Embassy is working on with the EP-Nuffic for capacity building/ training in blue economy and exploring short-courses/ tailor-made training programmes for Bangladeshi students and junior legal professionals under the Netherlands Fellowship Programme (NFP).
The EP-Nuffic has been articulating