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EU envoy foresees a ‘step change’ in relations with Bangladesh

The European Union’s Ambassador to Bangladesh has talked of a ‘step change’ in relations with Bangladesh over the next five years. At their heart will be a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement that will not only strengthen trade and development but build on those traditional common interests to achieve a much wider strategic relationship, writes Political Editor Nick Powell.

EU Ambassador Charles Whiteley has held his first talks with Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister, Hasan Mahmud, who was appointed in a cabinet reshuffle following Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s victory in parliamentary elections earlier this month. “I think in the next five years we would be really seeing a step change in our relationship”, he told reporters after the meeting.

The relationship will be driven by a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement that is much more political in nature than the existing agreements between the EU and Bangladesh. “Of course, development cooperation is still a part of what we do in Bangladesh [but] you know we had our first political dialogue a year ago and that covers international affairs as well,” said the ambassador.

Mr Whiteley said the meeting had very much been a forward-looking discussion about shared priorities in the wider world and not just about immediate bilateral relations. He declined to add to the EU’s statement on the result of the election, which was boycotted by the main opposition party. It had been notably less critical than statements from the US and UK.

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“I had the very good first meeting with the Foreign Minister, a very wide-ranging discussion. It’s very good to welcome a foreign minister who knows Europe very well”, the Ambassador said.”Of course, he has very strong connection with Belgium which is the headquarters of the EU. He studied there and knows Europe well and how Europe functions”.

“We are going to start negotiating a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement very soon, which is very wide-ranging new generation agreement. We only have one of that in South Asia, covering all different policy areas of collaboration … all of the areas where we have the long-standing cooperation with Bangladesh, where of course collaboration will continue for many years to come.

Bangladesh has joined the European Union’s Global Gateway flagship programme. “This is where we will make a test case of our cooperation through helping Bangladesh reach its goal of generating energy from renewable sources”, said Charles Whiteley.

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He also insisted that the issue of more than a million Rohingya refugees, who fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh was not a forgotten crisis for Europe but rather a “huge, shared priority”.

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