French envoy delivers keynote as Cosmos Foundation's Ambassador Lecture Series returns post-Covid

Covering the wide sweep of the historic relationship between France and Bangladesh from the Battle of Plassey to the present day, French Ambassador Marie Masdupuy has said the two countries share an "imperfectly perfect" relationship, with much scope for expansion ahead.

She was delivering the keynote at the latest edition of the Cosmos Foundation's Ambassador Lecture Series on Saturday, which returned to its in-person format for the first time since early 2020 and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Our relationship is imperfectly perfect," she said, adding, "Our relations are politically perfect when our leaders meet. It's always an occasion to note a broad convergence on many global and regional issues such as climate change, fight against terrorism, Rohingya crisis, advocacy for an open, inclusive, safe and peaceful Indo-Pacific region."

The French ambassador highlighted the long-standing relationship between the peoples of France and what is now Bangladesh since the 17th century, when the first French traders came to this region.

"The French presence in Bengal was established in the 17th century. Trade was at the heart of the presence in this region," she said at the symposium styled 'Bangladesh-France Relations: Prognosis for the Future'. The session was chaired by the president of Cosmos Foundation, renowned scholar-diplomat Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, who served as Bangladesh's permanent ambassador to the UN in New York, as well as foreign affairs adviser to the last caretaker government.

"France saw an opportunity to accomplish its old dream of barring a British takeover of the whole Indian sub-continent at Plassey (Palashi), to the north of Kolkata, in 1757 where the allied French-Bengali forces fought the British for Bengal - which was at that time under the leadership of the last independent Nawab," said Masdupuy.

Enayetullah Khan, Chairman of Cosmos Foundation, in his opening remarks said, "The deep and longstanding ties between France and Bangladesh are evidenced by the existence of Farashganj in old Dhaka that used to be home to a French market on the bank of Buriganga river dating back to the 17th Century."

He said the trade relations between Bangladesh and France continued to thrive in a variety of ways even after the disappearances of those centuries-old establishments.

The French ambassador provided insight into how the relationship between France and Bangladesh might look like in the future.

On the realignments centring the Indo-Pacific region, Ambassador Masdupuy said, "The French strategy in the Indo-Pacific is different from that of other countries. It's a balanced one as shown by its emphasis on the blue economy, sustainable fisheries, green port and connectivity; all these issues belong to our country's Indo-Pacific agenda. On such shared goals with Bangladesh, we can build up, construct and co-create the agenda for the region."

She also cautioned against any domestic instability that might affect the trade and business relationship between the two countries - bilateral trade in 2021 amounted to $3.3 billion, with a massive trade surplus in favour of Bangladesh. France is the 5th largest importer of Bangladeshi goods worldwide, and third within the EU.

Ambassador Masdupuy called on the authorities to work on solving the trade imbalance between the two countries as well as to focus on strengthening cooperation in the potent sectors of defence and security.

"In the field of security and defence, there's a clear appetite of Bangladesh Armed Forces to acquire French equipment as a high quality answer to their needs. But the financing side is an issue. So, let's hope it will change," she said.

The ambassador's address was complemented by brief remarks from a set of discussants each covering a different aspect of the relationship. was held on the future prospect of Bangladesh-France relationship.

Tariq A Karim, former Bangladesh Ambassador and High Commissioner to the US and India and Honorary Emeritus Advisor of Cosmos Foundation, expanded on the historic ties touched upon by previous speakers, relaying little-known stories from the French presence in Bengal, and India.

Lailufar Yasmin, Professor of International Relations at Dhaka University, hailed the people-to-people ties that gird the relationship, rooted in their affinity for the arts and culture.

Parvez Karim Abbasi, Assistant Professor of Economics at East West University, spoke about the economic potential of the relationship, holding up the bright prospects of the light engineering sector to enter the French market, while Bangladesh has already shown an interest in the French defence sector's offerings.

Shafqat Munir, Research Fellow at Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS), held up numerous instances of cooperation between the two countries' centres of excellence in the security sphere, and called for more such initiatives.

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