Dutch envoy Harry Verweij carries 3 little suitcases - expand, brand, stand – for Bangladesh
The Netherlands government established diplomatic relations with Bangladesh after the independence on 11th February 1972. However, cooperation between Bangladesh and the Netherlands goes back over half a century. During Bangladesh’s struggle for independence, William A.S Ouderland, a Dutch citizen working as the production manager of Bata Shoe Company, actively participated in the 1971 War of Liberation. He was later awarded the Bir Protik Award by the government of Bangladesh.
Newly appointed Dutch Ambassador to Bangladesh Harry Verweij recently talked to diplomatic correspondents and shared what he, as the representative of the Netherlands, is doing here in Bangladesh. He uses a motto, three bold words: expand, brand, stand. These three words, he says, are three little suitcases when unpacked reveal the past present and the future between Bangladesh and the Netherlands.
The envoy has laid emphasis on branding Bangladesh properly for the expansion of its relations with the external world on trade and economic fronts noting that there are so many positive things to tell about this amazing country.
“It (Bangladesh) has huge opportunities. The ‘brand Bangladesh’ must be rejuvenated and upgraded,” said Dutch Ambassador Verweij at ‘DCAB Talk’ held at the auditorium of Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) on May 5. DCAB President Raheed Ejaz and General Secretary Nurul Islam Hasib also spoke.
For expansion to take place, he said, they need to put the image of Bangladesh at the center of it all. “I have taken it upon myself to encourage Bangladesh to brand the country. What is your image? What do we need to have in mind to understand and portray Bangladesh? It is a country with a young population and fertile ground of young entrepreneurs. Indeed, the strength of the country lies in younger generation and we should all tap in! A positive image should be the key message. This is a country with opportunities!”
Highlighting Bangladesh’s economic vibrancy, diversification, productivity, economic growth, and warm and welcoming people, the Dutch envoy said Bangladesh’s message “must be clear, distinctive and recognizable.”
He mentioned that they will not have any chance of expanding bilateral trade relations if Bangladesh’s branding is not done differently with impressive and positive elements.
Going beyond the general narratives about Bangladesh, the Ambassador said Bangladesh is not a small country having a big market of 170 million people with economic vibrancy in place.
He laid emphasis on putting the image of Bangladesh at the centre of all, branding Bangladesh rightly; and reminded media’s role to that end.
Made in Bangladesh Brand
About readymade garment (RMG) industry, the Ambassador said the industry, since the Rana Plaza disaster, has done an amazing job with significant improvements on safety aspects in many of the factories.
Ambassador Verweij said the RMG sector can play a role in enhancing brand Bangladesh and requested to keep the doors wide open for further international cooperation.
“Please, keep the doors wide open for international cooperation, for international advice. It’s in all of our interests,” he said adding that Bangladesh will continue to get assistance.
Responding to a UNB question on RMG product prices, the Dutch envoy said the prices are continuing to go down because of negotiations and competitions, and assured of linking up these specific issues -- pricing, living wages and safety.
The Ambassador recognised the huge investment made by the apparel industry owners on safety issues and laid emphasis on looking into both sides of the coin justifying the importance of the growing prices of RMG products.
The RMG sector, in his view, also plays a pivotal role in enhancing the brand ‘Bangladesh’ abroad. “I want to reiterate and ask all of you to join hands and put in efforts for Bangladesh to make ‘Made in Bangladesh’ a renowned brand name globally.”
Freedom of Expression
For the Netherlands, human rights is a “cornerstone” of human dignity, freedom and development. They form the basis for open and free societies all over the world. This is why freedom of expression and internet freedom has been a priority for them.
Bangladesh ranks 150th in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index. To improve, the Dutch envoy said, “We must allow space for others to give their opinion and the right to disagree. No one should get offended by the truth or at another’s message and creative indulgence. Free speech is life itself.”
He said journalism is what makes a democracy work. “As the Netherlands, we are working to promote freedom of expression, protect human rights defenders like you, provide space for open debate and support for civil society. Because freedom to express oneself is directly linked to fostering human rights and democracy.”
In reply to a question on freedom of press, he said democracy and free press are linked together and go together.
On political issue, the envoy while sharing his general comment as a foreigner said, if someone has a ticket for parliamentary seat, whatever party he or she belongs to, she or he has to take it.
After months of contentious positions, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) decided to join parliament and the elected BNP MPs except its Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, took oath recently.
The Dutch Ambassador said there is continuous discussion on how to improve economic and trade relations between Bangladesh and Europe.
“We try to link up Bangladesh and Dutch businesses. We see many opportunities. We see a room to expand. We see a room to expand our bilateral relationship and our bilateral trade relationship,” Ambassador Verweij said.
He said they will be focusing on their advanced maritime industries and on formidable agro food industries.
Responding to a question on Rohingya issue, the envoy said the International Criminal Court (ICC) focuses on forced deportation from Myanmar to Bangladesh and has set up a preliminary examination into it.
“It’s a very long process,” said the Ambassador mentioning that accountability is very important for Bangladesh and the Netherlands.
“A hope that resonates among the Rohingya community that the International Criminal Court, (ICC) would bring perpetrators to justice,” said the Ambassador.
He said they stood with Bangladesh and remain committed to standing with the nation also in its efforts to address the Rohingya crisis and improving human rights and democracy.
The Office of the Prosecutor, International Criminal Court (ICC) does not see any barrier in carrying out “preliminary examination” and subsequent investigation into alleged atrocities committed against Rohingyas by the Myanmar military though Myanmar is not a State Party to the Rome Statute.
Bangladesh Delta Plan gateway to widen ties
The Netherlands has said the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 will be one of the important gateways to galvanise their efforts in broadening the scope of bilateral cooperation in areas like maritime development and inland water transport.
“Bangladeshi and the Dutch are longtime friends. We’ve a lot in common. The most prominent similarity is that we’re low-lying nations where big rivers end in the sea. We’re Delta nations,” said the Dutch Ambassador.
He said the Netherlands private sector hopefully can play a role in these areas and Dutch companies are currently engaged in port development in Chittagong and Payra.
At the same time, the Ambassador said, the Netherlands supports capacity development and knowledge generation for maritime development.
Verweij said their experience has led to a fundamental Dutch commitment to Bangladesh on its long-term vision for development --the Delta Plan. “It’s close to both of our hearts and minds.”
The cooperation on the implementation of the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 is not just a potentiality for a distant future but a reality at this very moment, he said.
At present, Dutch and Bangladeshi teams are working together making coordinated implementation of the plan possible.
“We’re providing know how through our specialised government agencies, our knowledge institutes and our private sectors,” said the Dutch Ambassador.
Terming Bangladesh a vibrant country with the positive economic development and impressive growth figures, the envoy said within the context of their relationship and the newly formulated strategy, the key word is transition. Bangladesh and the Netherlands are enjoying 46 years of bilateral relations.
As Bangladesh has become a middle-income country, and will graduate out of the group of the least developed countries, Verweij said, the Netherlands is transitioning policies towards Bangladesh.
“No longer will the main focus be on development cooperation and a donor-recipient relationship only. We see Bangladesh as an equal partner,” he said.
In this regard, the Ambassador said, their focus will be on aid to trade, and Bangladesh’s upward growth fits in with their role.
Ambassador Verweij said the Netherlands will pay more attention to identifying and integrating alternative and innovative forms of funding.
“Our ambition is to be seen as a partner for finding multidisciplinary solutions that build a better future for all, thereby increasing trade and foreign investment,” he said.