Broadening and deepening relations in the 21st century

Alain Berset
Thursday, February 8th, 2018


Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina welcomes Swiss President Alain Berset at her office on 5 February (PID)

 

Switzerland and Bangladesh have been fostering good relations for decades. For many years, contacts primarily revolved around development cooperation efforts. As important as that field is, our goal must be to move ahead and broaden bilateral relations between our two countries. Attention is increasingly shifting to trade, cultural exchanges and cooperation at international level.

 

I hope that my visit to Bangladesh—the first by a Swiss president—leads to even closer exchanges in these areas, and I am looking forward to the talks with Hon’ble President H E Md Abdul Hamid, Hon’ble Prime Minister H E Sheikh Hasina and other members of her cabinet. Switzerland and Bangladesh are old friends who are renewing their acquaintance. We can draw on the past and recall that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman envisaged the future state of Bangladesh as the “Switzerland of the East.” Or we can stress current similarities, such as the fact that both countries, despite their totally different geographies, are particularly affected by the impact of climate change. That calls for a common commitment.

 

What is particularly urgent right now is the relief effort for the Rohingya refugees. Switzerland expressly acknowledges the important role played by the authorities and people of Bangladesh in tackling the crisis. Switzerland too has been swift to strengthen its humanitarian efforts in Bangladesh and has increased its emergency aid budget. This will help to provide refugees from Myanmar with food and water, build accommodation and invest in sanitary facilities. Switzerland is also providing support for the infrastructure and equipment at two state hospitals, and is helping with efforts to improve access to the health system in and around Cox’s Bazar. I will use my visit to see the situation for myself.

 

Switzerland’s strengthened humanitarian efforts build on the decades of Swiss-Bangladeshi cooperation. Swiss projects in the areas of local governance encourage political participation by the local population and support local administrative structures in providing important services. The aim of Swiss development cooperation is to improve the living standards of poor and disadvantaged population groups.

 

Upturn in economic relations

 

Thanks to its continually high rates of economic growth and its impressive poverty reduction measures, Bangladesh is approaching the World Bank’s defined status of a middle-income country. In view of the ongoing challenges, I congratulate the country on these successes and look forward to the prospective upturn in our bilateral economic relations. Switzerland and Bangladesh enjoy mutually beneficial bilateral economic relations; growth in bilateral trade has almost doubled over the past seven years. Swiss knowhow is appreciated in Bangladesh, notably thanks to the presence of numerous Swiss companies. Bilateral investment has also been growing, proving the strong relationship between Swiss and Bangladeshi businesses.

 

Bangladesh’s strong textile and garment industry, whose exports to Switzerland account for a major share of bilateral trade, benefits from Switzerland’s support via the International Labour Organization’s “Better Work Bangladesh Programme.” The broad range of training services has helped to generate a strong industry presence and boost technical capacity.

 

Significant opportunities for economic exchanges exist in a number of other areas including the green economy and information and communications technologies. Switzerland has a lot of knowhow in these fields. Switzerland recognises Bangladesh’s efforts in further strengthening democracy and rule of law which are instrumental for deepening of our bilateral political and economic relations. In this spirit, Switzerland will continue to work with the government of Bangladesh, as well as civil society organisations and NGOs.

 

Perceived distance shrinking

 

Alongside political and economic affairs there is a third area in which cooperation between our two countries is gaining momentum, namely cultural exchange. I am particularly delighted that a beacon project such as the Dhaka Art Summit, partnered by the Pro Helvetia Foundation, is taking place during my visit. Culture is an outstanding and enjoyable way of coming together.

 

Decades of globalisation, hastened further still by digitalisation, mean that the perceived distance between Asia and Europe is rapidly shrinking. And that is necessary because the world faces challenges that can only be tackled together. I am therefore very grateful to President Hamid for inviting me to Bangladesh. I am looking forward to the visit and our countries’ next steps together.

 

Alain Berset is President of the Swiss Confederation. He is on a four-day visit to Bangladesh.

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