‘The most rewarding assignment yet’

AKM Moinuddin
Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017


The EU’s point-man in Dhaka for the last three years says goodbye on a positive note.


The European Union (EU) is a strong partner of Bangladesh, as reflected in their robust trade relations underpinned by the EBA (Everything But Arms) market access regime. The relations between Bangladesh and the EU have now grown beyond assistance. Outgoing EU Ambassador to Bangladesh Pierre Mayaudon talked to Dhaka Courier on various aspects of the growing relationship couple of days before his departure.


“Frankly speaking without exaggeration…probably this is the most rewarding period of my professional life,” said Ambassador Mayaudon evaluating his overall Dhaka assignment.


Despite some difficulties and some tragic moments, he said altogether he is going to have a very positive conclusion in Bangladesh with great satisfaction about what he achieved and a fulfilling experience.


Asked to compare Bangladesh’s present situation with the one three years ago, Ambassador Mayaudon said the political situation was quite volatile with widespread agitation and killing of innocent people. “Three years later, today, the situation is much more peaceful,” he said admitting that the last election had left many frustrated.


Enthusiasm & Inclusive Polls


The ambassador has voiced optimism over a ‘transparent and inclusive’ national election in Bangladesh saying there is a lot of enthusiasm and determination across the board in Bangladesh.


“Absolutely…I found the goodwill across the board. There’s a lot of enthusiasm and determination to bring the country forward,” he said while sharing the the sense of pragmatism he got during his discussion with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, leaders of different political parties, the Chief Election Commissioner and civil society members.


Recalling the ‘adverse consequences’ during and after the last national elections, Ambassador Mayaudon said everybody has understood that such things should be avoided.


“Frankly speaking, I think it won’t happen again,” the Ambassador said mentioning that he found the goodwill among all to make sure that the next national election in Bangladesh is a chance to bring forward the democratic agenda in Bangladesh.


The ambassador said the initiative taken by the Election Commission engaging the civil society and political parties in discussion is certainly a ‘contribution’ to find a way forward in making sure that all significant and relevant political forces will be represented in the electoral competition.


“I think all actors are too conscious. Goodwill prevails,” said Ambassador Mayaudon who was scheduled to leave Dhaka on Thursday (August 24) completing his three-year tenure in Bangladesh.


In May last, the ambassador also hoped that all the political parties in Bangladesh will take part in the next national election saying there have been some ‘lessons learned’ from the last election.


“There’ve been some lessons learned already that will certainly lead to proper approach…We wish that all political forces in this country will participate in the next elections obviously to make them as inclusive as possible,” he said.


The ambassador was positive about sending an EU Election Observation Mission (EOM) saying such Mission is not just focusing on Election Day rather it is quite massive involvement.


Ready to assist EC


He reiterated EU’s willingness to provide any assistance to the Election Commission if any such assistance is sought.


Referring to his meeting with the Chief Election Commissioner, the ambassador said he reiterated their offer to bring forward the long-established partnership with the Election Commission.


Responding to a question, the EU ambassador said democracy, governance and human rights are on top of EU agenda in Bangladesh, and they never miss the opportunities to address these ‘crucial fields’.


He said this is the kind of past and lessons learned from it (last national election boycotted by BNP). “I feel a general determination to make the next national a great opportunity for Bangladesh.”


No Cruelty on Migrants


European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has apparently threatened to ‘limit visas’ to Europe for travellers from Bangladesh if there was no action by Dhaka on irregular migrants.


In a letter to Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni recently, Juncker also promised to ‘pressure Bangladesh’ to take back its migrants, since the ‘vast majority of them’ are ineligible for international protection.


Asked why the EU turned so ‘cruel’ suddenly, Mayaudon said, “I beg to differ. We’re not cruel at all. The EU is open to Bangladeshis.”


He said every year the EU Member states issue an average 20,000 residence permits to Bangladeshis to stay and work there.


The ambassador said over the last two years the number of Bangladeshis who tried to enter Europe through illegal channels has dramatically increased putting their lives at risk. “Our intention is to save the lives of people. We’re looking at it on a very humanitarian aspect.”


Bangladesh, earlier in principle, decided to take back its irregular migrants from Europe after proper verification of their nationality. Bangladesh and the EU are now discussing the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) on the return of irregular migrants from the EU countries.


Responding to another question, he said education has a ‘core role’ in addressing the root cause of terrorism and violent extremism. He acknowledged that no country in the world is spared from the threat of this global problem and noted that law enforcement alone cannot solve the problem.


EBA still safe for Bangladesh


The European Union (EU) has made it clear that Bangladesh will continue to enjoy duty-free-quota-free access to the European market under Everything But Arms (EBA) regime saying the EBA is “safe” for Bangladesh. “I can tell you today EBA regime is safe (for Bangladesh).


He said they are in a “trajectory” where Bangladesh government, supported by the private sector, has showed “clear, concrete and time-bound” willingness to align itself with the international labour conventions.


Earlier, the International Labour Organization (ILO) called on Bangladesh to address four issues: full alignment of respectively, the EPZ draft law, the Bangladesh Labour Act, with the UN core Labour Convention modalities for establishing trade unions and the right of trade unions to operate freely.


Bangladesh earned $18.68 billion from its exports to the EU in 2015-16, which was 54.57 percent of the total receipts for the fiscal year. Of the $18.68 billion, $17.15 billion came from apparel shipments. The EU currently accounts for over 60 percent of all Bangladesh’s garment export receipts a year.


Asked about GSP+ benefit for Bangladesh, Ambassador Mayaudon said Bangladesh, once it becomes a middle income country, will have to apply for the GSP+ regime.


“Access to GSP+ isn’t an automatic process. But in practical terms, GSP+ is almost as generous as GSP (under EBA). There’ll be little difference in Bangladesh economy in terms of access to the EU market,” he said.


The country, according to the European Commission (Trade), must have ratified the 27 GSP+ relevant international conventions on human- and labour rights, environmental protection and good governance to avail of the GSP+ benefit.


“Bangladesh today isn’t very far from that. Most of these conventions are already signed and ratified (by Bangladesh),” Ambassador Mayaudon said adding that the attention, at that time, will be on implementation of these conventions.


The country must not have formulated reservations which are prohibited by these conventions and the monitoring bodies under those conventions must not have identified any serious failure to effectively implement them, according to the European Commission.


Ambassador Mayaudon, however, said Bangladesh will not lose the GSP benefit under the EBA the day it becomes a middle income country but it will enjoy the duty-free-quote-free benefit for three years during transition period.


Challenging $50 billion export


On Bangladesh’s US$ 50 billion export target by 2021, the ambassador said, “It’s good and necessary to have an ambitious target but it’s challenging.”


He laid emphasis on continuing modernization efforts, improve the image and competitiveness in the RMG sector apart from market and products diversification to achieve the goal.


Ambassador Mayaudon appreciated Bangladesh’s efforts in improving safety at the workplaces, labour rights and in the area of freedom of association in partnership with the private sector and international partners. “This is also a matter of pride for us,” he said recalling the role of the EU to that end.


Bangladesh, according to the World Bank, has been ranked 176th among 190 countries in terms of ‘Ease of Doing Business’ but Bangladesh eyes to get a place within the top 100 by 2021.


Taking Bangladesh’s initiative to that end positively, Ambassador Mayaudon said they are encouraging more investment from the European countries in Bangladesh.


Bangladesh and the EU, earlier, discussed recommendations formulated to improve the business climate in Bangladesh, including import duties/custom/trade facilitation, licenses and investment in services sector, financial flows, tax regime and pharmaceuticals for expanding European exports and investment.


The ambassador said the EU-Bangladesh Business Climate Dialogue was aimed at encouraging reforms in the Bangladesh economic sector to make Bangladesh more “exporters and Investors” friendly.


Ambassador Mayaudon, who ended his sixth assignment abroad, will soon be joining in EU Kabul Mission, Afghanistan.

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