Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today (April 03) expressed satisfaction over the growing relationship between Bangladesh and France, saying it has extended further towards an objective and strategic partnership. “France is always a trusted partner of Bangladesh. The relationship has extended further towards an objective and strategic partnership guided by our common goals of sustainable development,” she said.
The premier made the remarks when newly appointed Ambassador of France to Bangladesh Marie Masdupuy paid a courtesy call on her at the Gono Bhaban. The premier expressed satisfaction over the growing relationship between the two countries with cooperation in various fields for the last five decades following the way set up by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
However, France wants to strengthen strategic security in the Indo-Pacific region. For this purpose, the country is focused on developing relations with the countries of this region. In this regard, they want to develop relations with Bangladesh with special importance. Special importance is being given to regional security and climate change.
Bangladesh has become a fertile ground for foreign investment in the last decade. Bangladesh is considered as one of the ‘Frontier Five’ economies. At the same time, development has a special role in Bangladesh’s policies. In this regard, there is scope for increasing French investment. France can increase investment in infrastructure development and capacity building in Bangladesh.
50 years of Bangladesh-France bilateral relations were completed on February 14, 2022. In these 50 years, both the countries have achieved significant socio-political and economic development. While France has become a world leader in technological capacity building, Bangladesh is in the process of transitioning to a developing country. Throughout the period both the states maintain warm relations between them and hence there is scope for both the states to take the relations to new heights in the current reality, especially in this era of Indo-Pacific Strategy.
Bangladesh-France bilateral relations were introduced on February 14, 1972, Valentine’s Day. On that day, the French government recognized the newly-independent Bangladesh. The very next month, on March 17, diplomatic relations between the two countries were established with the establishment of the Bangladesh Embassy in Paris. However, the relationship of the French with the Bengali dates back much further. The relationship between the two nations was introduced by the arrival of French traders in the then Bengal in the seventeenth century. There is even history that French soldiers fought for the last Nawab Sirajuddaula in the Battle of Palashi. Apart from this, public opinion was formed in France in favor of Bangladesh during the liberation war.
There have been several high-level state visits between the two countries over the past 50 years. In 1989, then President Ershad went to Paris. The following year, in 1990, French President Mitterrand visited Bangladesh. Besides, the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina went on a state visit to Paris in 1999 and most recently in November 2021. A number of ministerial visits have also been made to both countries, among which French Defense Minister Florence Parley’s visit to Dhaka in 2020 is noteworthy.
The two countries have long extended their cooperation through state visits. In the 1980s and 1990s, several important agreements were also signed, including the Agreement on Cultural Cooperation (1987). Besides, Bangladesh has also received the help of France in solving the Rohingya problem. France organized several high-level meetings at the United Nations early in the crisis.
Along with political relations, bilateral trade has also increased at the same time. In 2020, bilateral trade amounted to 2.76 billion euros; Of which Bangladesh’s export to France was 2.52 billion; And the import was 25 million euros. Bangladesh mainly exports manufactured garments to France and imports electrical equipment.
In addition to commercial relations, France also has cooperation in the development of Bangladesh. This cooperation started with the arrival of President Mitterrand to Bangladesh in 1990. During that visit, France helped with flood control dam projects in Bangladesh. Currently, there are several French projects and joint ventures in Bangladesh, including water treatment plants, environmental projects.
Apart from economic assistance, Bangladesh also received technological assistance from France. The French technology company Thales built Bangladesh’s first satellite-Bangabandhu-1. Discussions are currently going on about Bangabandhu-2. In addition, Thales is also currently working on Bangladesh’s air traffic system. Defense technology is also being discussed between the two countries. Bangladesh is considering the purchase of Rafale aircraft from the French company Dassault Aviation.
France-Bangladesh cooperation continues to fight the epidemic. France has loaned 150 million euros to Bangladesh to fight the pandemic and has so far provided about 5.38 million doses of vaccine aid, which may increase in the future.
In this era of globalization, inter-cultural relations or ‘cross culture’ relations between two states have also been on the rise for the past 50 years. Since the 1987 Cultural Assistance Agreement, this relationship has been strengthened successively. Gradually, the influence of French ‘soft power’ is seen in the society of Bangladesh. Alias Français works to promote the French language. At the same time, as French is one of the official languages of the United Nations, there are opportunities to study in several departments in universities as well as to learn French. In addition, French music, cinema and philosophy are becoming popular among young people.
At the same time, the representation of Bangladesh in French society is also increasing. Bangladeshi diaspora community in France is gradually growing. According to the 2017 INCI statistics, there were 1 lakh 4 thousand 400 legal Bangladeshis living in France at that time. The number will undoubtedly be higher in 2022. Exhibitions are now being held in Paris on various issues including the Bangladesh Liberation War. Bangladeshis working in France are contributing to the French economy as well as sending remittances.
Judging by the warmth of relations in the current context, there are opportunities for both countries to further strengthen relations in political, social and economic fields. Bangladesh has become a fertile ground for foreign investment in the last decade. Bangladesh is considered as one of the ‘Frontier Five’ economies. At the same time, development has a special role in Bangladesh’s policies. In this regard, there is scope for increasing French investment.
France can increase investment in infrastructure development and capacity building in Bangladesh. At the same time, Bangladesh will also benefit from France’s technological capabilities. Discussions in this regard are ongoing between the two countries. In a joint statement during the latest visit, the two countries also announced their targeted increase in technology assistance, especially in defense technology.
Besides, the present geopolitical reality has ample opportunity to enhance relations among themselves. Given the ongoing Quad-China conflict and the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific region, Bangladesh has become important due to its geographical location and its position in regional politics. Bangladesh has always followed the principle of equality in foreign policy, so it is still not taking sides. On the other hand, France has already announced its own strategy on this important issue. There is an opportunity for cooperation between the two countries for national interest. Both countries want a free and open Indo-Pacific region. This demand is also reflected in the joint statement. In the joint statement, the two countries declared their belief in the principle of free, free and secure Indo-Pacific region.
On the other hand, there is also an opportunity to develop knowledge-science and education relations between the two countries. France’s education system is advanced and one of the best choices for higher education for young students and budding researchers. Both countries should therefore develop scholarship programs and easy visa arrangements. As a result, Bangladeshi geniuses will be able to contribute to knowledge and science in France and at the same time they will be able to return home with modern knowledge and science. As a result, both countries can benefit. Furthermore, when Bangladesh becomes a developing country in 2026, it will need France’s help to join the European Union’s GSP Plus program. GSP Plus scheme is essential to keep export trade of Bangladesh dynamic.
There is no significant difference between Bangladesh and France. Those that exist are few and far between. Therefore, the two countries should strengthen this relationship in the coming days considering the warm bilateral relations between them and the future and national interests at this special moment of the 50th anniversary. It is expected that both Bangladesh and France will benefit.