Swiss Ambassador to Bangladesh discusses the growth of bilateral trade and speaks on the urgency of diversifying exports to keep the economy growing
Switzerland Ambassador to Bangladesh Rene Holenstein has said Bangladesh should diversify its trade basket and place focus on new sectors - leather, ceramic, IT - to boost exports to Switzerland and beyond, which is currently limited to apparel products mainly.
“The trade figure may look small compared to Bangladesh’s trade with other countries but what impresses me is that the bilateral trade has almost tripled since 2010 and is expected to cross $1billion mark in the coming years,” he told UNB in an interview at his office.
Ambassador Holenstein said he has regular exchanges with the Swiss companies operating in Bangladesh as well as their representatives of the Bangladeshi business community who tell him about the business opportunities and challenges in Bangladesh.
“The main challenges identified by the investors I talk to are namely, infrastructural limitations, bureaucratic red-tape, weak policy implementation and insufficient legal security,” he said while responding to a question.
The diplomat said Bangladesh should address these issues “in a more emphatic manner” to boost potential and existing investors’ confidence to attract more FDI.
“I am confident that with further improved infrastructure and energy supply, regulatory predictability and legal security, Bangladesh will become a more preferred destination for the Swiss businesses in the future,” he said.
Ambassador Holenstein said the year 2018 is “very important” for the people of Bangladesh as the national election will take place at the end of this year.
“As a friend of Bangladesh, it is our sincere hope that the next election, held in a free, fair and inclusive manner, will further bolster the democratic strides made by the country,” the envoy said.
Ambassador Holenstein said like Switzerland or any other nation, the topic of human rights is very important for Bangladesh. “Human rights are enshrined as fundamental rights in the constitution of Bangladesh.”
Responding to a question, he said drug trafficking is a global problem, which has to be responded by maintaining a moral high ground and upholding the rule of law and access to justice.
The boom in the textiles and pharmaceutical sector is making Bangladesh an attractive place for Swiss investment, said the ambassador.
In 2017 bilateral trade volume between Switzerland and Bangladesh recorded an impressive growth of more than 14% totaling 676.8 million Swiss Francs.
“Investments and reinvestments from the Swiss companies in Bangladesh are also increasing steadily,” he said.
Mentioning that Switzerland has a strong focus on innovation and technology, the envoy said, “I see potentials for Swiss companies providing technological solutions to Bangladesh in the coming days.”
He said they have to also identify new areas of economic cooperation - hi-tech, clean-tech,renewable energy - where the two countries can mutually benefit from the collaboration.
During the Presidential visit in February 2018, the Swiss president and prime minister of Bangladesh welcomed the positive developments of bilateral trade and investment and stressed the need to further strengthen the bilateral relations including in the area of trade and investment.
“Bangladesh’s aspirations for 2021 and its remarkable socio-economic achievements in the last decades are impressive. To accelerate this growth in an inclusive and sustainable manner, it is important to continue to respect the fundamental human rights principles in the country,” he said.
The diplomat said at present, development and economic cooperation are the two main pillars of bilateral relations between the two countries. “Cultural ties are also expanding rapidly.”
The two countries regularly have high level exchanges.
Bilateral relations “received renewed momentum” during the visit of the President of the Swiss Confederation Alain Berset, in February 2018.
“During this important visit, which is indeed a milestone in the bilateral relations, our two countries placed strong emphasis on forging closer economic and technological cooperation,”Ambassador Holenstein said.
Since his arrival in Bangladesh, almost a year ago, Ambassador Holenstein has visited most of the divisions in Bangladesh.
“Wherever I went, I felt genuine warmth and curiosity of the people towards Switzerland as well as its people.”
He said, “I can confidently say that the relations between our two friendly countries are stronger now than ever before.”
The Ambassador said Switzerland has remained a steady and committed development partner of Bangladesh.
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC is present in Bangladesh for a longtime.
The current Swiss development cooperation strategy for Bangladesh has a duration of four-year covering 2018-2021.
The Swiss cooperation strategy is aligned with the Agenda 2030 and Bangladesh’s national goals and focuses on three areas namely, Democratic Governance, Income and Economic Development, and Safer Migration.
Switzerland’s annual contribution stands at around US$22million excluding humanitarian assistance.
Responding to a question he said Switzerland has been able to play an important role in specific domains particularly in the areas of poverty reduction,social inclusion as well as disaster risk reduction over the last four and a half decade.
“Switzerland will continue to support Bangladesh’s development with targeted interventions to support the poor, marginalized and vulnerable population,” he said.
The diplomat said Switzerland will also continue to cooperate closely with the government of Bangladesh.