In an exclusive interview with Dhaka Tribune 's Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan, the British High Commissioner to Dhaka, Robert Chatterton Dickson shed light on the relationship between Dhaka and London, including a post-Brexit relationship
How do you see the present day Bangladesh-UK relationship? How can it be strengthened?
The relationship has been deep and important from the start. Right after the independence of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman chose London as his first destination en route to a free and independent Bangladesh following his release from Pakistan.
In the British capital, he was warmly received by Prime Minister Edward Heath and delivered his first post independence talk in a press conference right before flying back to Dhaka in a British aircraft.
The ties between the two countries have strengthened since then, based on a strong foundation including the English language, development, trade, security, and the huge contributions made by the British-Bangladeshi community in the UK and of course, cricket - we both have clinched the world champion title.
Now, as development partners, we are determined in attaining a better future, particularly by addressing the global challenges that are affecting our populations. Climate change tops the priority list.
We are chairing the Climate Summit (COP 26) in Glasgow this November, working as a partner of Bangladesh and leading the group of climate vulnerable states. Together, we need to deliver an outcome which will limit the rise of global temperature to 1.5 degrees.
Are there any problems in the relationship? If so, what are those?
I am pleased to say, except for a few odd instances, the UK-Bangladesh relationship is remarkably good. Where we disagree, we do so as friends on the basis of mutual respect.
How can Brexit influence Dhaka-London ties with respect to aid, trade, and investment in the short, medium, and long term?
Total trade between the UK and Bangladesh was £4.0bn in the year to the end of Q3 2019, an increase of 15.9% from the same period the previous year.
I’d like to see this trade relationship go further. The UK is now free to make its mark internationally as a champion of free trade and a bulwark against the forces of protectionism.
We can now pursue our own trade priorities, and Commonwealth countries like Bangladesh will be important. We have started a consultation on the future trade policy and would welcome the Bangladeshi Government's and businesses' observations.
Are you happy with the present trade volume between the two countries?
As passionate free traders, we always want to see trade volumes expand – as Adam Smith showed in the 18th century, that free trade is good for both sides.
I’m particularly keen to match Bangladesh's success in selling goods into the UK market by selling more high quality UK services to the Bangladeshi market.
We have world class products in sectors like health, education, and finance. As one example, UK universities are keen to invest here as soon as the Bangladeshi Cross Border Higher Education Act is implemented.
That would benefit the tens of thousands of Bangladeshi students looking for access to a world class education.
Are you satisfied with the UK investment in Bangladesh? What does the government of Bangladesh need to do to attract more investment from Britain?
Bangladesh has been a huge development and economic success since 1971. British companies are interested in its potential as the world’s eighth largest country by population, growing at a whopping 8% per year.
The UK is already the second largest cumulative investor with $2.3bn in investments, and UK firms make a huge contribution to Bangladesh's growth through capital investment, jobs, and know how.
I am very keen to see more British companies taking advantage of the opportunities. The more progress is made into the "Ease of Doing Business" issues, the easier it will be to persuade new British companies to come to Bangladesh.This year’s move up the rankings was a welcome scenario but there’s more that could be done, and it is vital that domestic and foreign investors are treated equally.
This will be particularly important with graduation from a Least Developed to Middle Income country status by the year 2024, a phenomenal achievement, but one which needs to be matched by rising standards.
Do you think the international community is doing enough to solve the Rohingya crisis? Can you see any solution to the crisis in the near future?
Bangladesh demonstrated extraordinary generosity in opening its borders to Rohingya refugees almost three years ago and in continuing to support them since.
The problem was created in Myanmar and can only be resolved there by enabling the Rohingya to return to Rakhine state voluntarily, in safety, and with dignity.
As the UN Security Council lead on this issue we’re working with the Government of Myanmar and others to help make this happen and to press for justice for the Rohingya.
In the meantime, the international community is working in concert with the government here to ensure delivery of humanitarian aid in the camps and development in Cox’s Bazar as well.
The UK government has committed £256m to this since August 2017, one of the largest international contributions to date.