He wants to see more collaboration, particularly on security, defense, and climate fronts

Highly appreciating Bangladesh's approach to new regulations, Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Bangladesh Charles Whiteley said Bangladesh has made very strong progress on anticipating its transition to GSP plus.

"I'm very happy with the psychological approach of Bangladesh. They take these things seriously. And they look at it at a very early stage. So it's very impressive," he said while responding to a question from UNB at DCAB Talk.

The ambassador said he is approached by people who know more than him about the given regulation and it is really impressive how business, the government authorities, civil society, they all have an eye on these things.

The EU envoy said he wants to see more collaboration in the future, in particular, on security and defense.

"I think this is an area where we can learn from each other. Now, Bangladesh has spent several years tackling the threat of Islamist extremism, the threat of terrorism. We all know what happened eight years ago at Holey Artisan Bakery. And we've seen how Bangladesh has got to grips with this phenomenon, just as many countries around the world have had to try to get to grips with it," he said.

The outgoing envoy said he believes there will be a real value in talking more on these issues and learning from each other.

"And I'm very happy that we're launching a climate change and security project. It is quite a small project," he said.

But it will bring together many key actors, including from the intelligence agencies and different agencies in Bangladesh, to talk about how you are coping with the potential security impact of climate change, and how all countries including Europe, can anticipate the threats that will come to their security from climate change, Whiteley said.

He said they need to listen to Bangladesh more, including ahead of the next COP. "You need to know what LDC countries are thinking. And Bangladesh is, as I said earlier, one of the foremost advocates to make sure there's a fair settlement at all levels of the climate change debate."

The envoy said the voice of Bangladesh is increasingly heard on issues like safety and security in Europe.

"We see the fact that Bangladesh is the major UN peacekeeping country. And the fact that Bangladesh brings a voice for peace-building and the United Nations, and so on that voice, again, is being heard increasingly in Europe," he said.

Whiteley said Bangladesh has a leadership role on climate change and the voice of Bangladesh needs to be heard.

"And that voice is being heard, including through the climate vulnerable forum, and through the work that Bangladesh has done to advocate a fair settlement for these developed countries."

The ambassador said trade is a key bedrock of the Bangladesh-EU relations and that bedrock is growing.

"I'm very happy to see that after a difficult time, there are signs of growth and green shoots. In terms of exports to Europe, the perennial need to expand that export base is still there. But the work is underway to show Bangladesh can showcase other sectors. And we're involved, for example, in the leather sector," he added.

Responding to a question, the envoy emphasized that Bangladesh is in a position to choose and it has a vision for its own future and it is articulated through many plans.

"Bangladesh is in a position to choose because many countries want to do business with Bangladesh. It's plain and simple. Countries are offering loans or grants to support the development of infrastructure. You have a relatively healthy debt to GDP ratio. You've never defaulted on the debt," Whiteley said.

"We work in genuine partnership with them, recognizing their status as an emerging power," he said.

Responding to a question on Global Gateway, he said it is a very different creature and it is offering a different vision of support to connectivity, infrastructure and digitalization.

Explaining why it is different; the envoy said this is about building genuine partnerships and it will always go through a fair competitive process.

The Global Gateway stands for sustainable and trusted connections that work for people and the planet.

It helps to tackle the most pressing global challenges, from fighting climate change, to improving health systems, and boosting competitiveness and security of global supply chains.

EU regulations put onus on Facebook

European Union Ambassador to Bangladesh Charles Whitely has highlighted the importance of regulations in stopping violence and hate crime through social media and allowing legitimate free speech.

"We've regulated (this) in Europe through our Digital Services Act, which puts an onus on companies like Meta and so on. For example, if they don't take hate speech down very quickly from the internet, there will be consequences in the European market," he said while responding to a question at DCAB Talk.

Referring to inaction of the platforms to stop the spread of violence, the EU envoy said, "Every country is grappling with the toxic underbelly of the internet and the impact it is having on society."

The ambassador said there is also discussion about how further steps can be taken and the same debates are happening in Bangladesh.

"So, of course, you've had the DSA, you've had the Cyber Security Act, and you're talking about how to address disinformation. But the key point underpinning everything is you have to do it in a way that preserves and respects the right to freedom of speech, the right to freedom of expression," Whiteley said.

He said a responsible government has to navigate this very fine line between stopping violence, stopping hate crime, and allowing legitimate free speech.

"And I think we can all learn from each other. And that's what we're doing. Some of our member states have different traditions in this respect in the EU. Certainly, America has a different approach. You know, far different levels of tolerance for certain forms of speech than you'd see in European legislation. So, we have our traditions, but the key thing is we all need to have freedom of speech. Or we also need security and safety in our societies. And it's a tricky conundrum," the ambassador said.

There have been frequent complaints from minority leaders, civil society members, anti-war crimes campaigners, families of war heroes and martyrs that Facebook failed to stop the tide of hate speech or incitement of communal violence in Bangladesh.

The latest report of FB on Bangladesh has also drawn flaks from the same community members. The ALBD Web Team has called Meta's latest report "biased and flawed."

Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Bangladesh (DCAB) hosted the event. DCAB President Nurul Islam Hasib and its General Secretary Ashiqur Rahman Apu also spoke at the event.

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