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Dhaka Tribune

Macron’s visit: How does the Elysee presidential palace view Bangladesh?

  • Bangladesh termed ‘model country’
  • Potential top 30 economy by 2030
Update : 10 Sep 2023, 12:30 AM

Ahead of French President Emmanuel Macron’s historic two-day visit to Bangladesh on Sunday, the Elysee presidential palace gave a background briefing to French journalists, telling them how Paris was planning to structure its “economic partnership” with Dhaka.

The Elysee Palace termed Bangladesh a “model country” in terms of public finance management, with a debt level of around 40%.

“The country is not being squeezed by creditors, as can be the case in some other developing countries.”

The briefing was aimed at "trying to get away from the image of Bangladesh as a country plunged into poverty." 

“Today, we see before us an emerging country that is looking to the rest of the world, one that has the capacity to become one of the 30 largest economies in the world by 2030. That is the goal that has been set, and the country can achieve it by following the current trend,” according to the briefing document.

“Bangladesh does not often come to mind when economic issues are discussed, but that is ignoring the progress made in recent years and, above all, the successes achieved by Bangladesh.”

“First, it is about the immense potential of this country. We are talking about the world's eighth-largest population, with 170 million inhabitants. We are talking about a country that is still young, with impressive school enrollment rates, and a population with an increasingly high level of education.

“We are talking about a country which, in terms of GDP, has managed to overtake several of its regional neighbors, in the broadest sense of the term, notably Pakistan and Malaysia. It is also a country whose GDP per capita is now higher than India's, thanks in particular to one of the highest growth rates in South Asia, around 7% in recent years.

“The country still faces many challenges. For example, Bangladesh has a population greater than that of Japan or Russia, in a territory the size of Greece. An extremely high population density of over 1,200 inhabitants per square kilometre, one of the highest in the world.

“These challenges are primarily environmental, as Bangladesh is undoubtedly the country most vulnerable to climate change and rising sea levels.

“To give an order of magnitude, according to the IPCC, if the ocean level were to rise by one metre, it would cover almost 17% of Bangladesh's surface area.

“And it is also a country facing a crisis situation on one of its borders, Burma (Myanmar), due to the ongoing civil war since the coup d'etat. Nevertheless, this does not prevent the country from looking to the future.”

A country with strong economic potentials

While presenting Bangladesh, the Elysee presidential palace said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has developed a “broad development” program called "Smart Bangladesh.”

“She is also increasing contacts with her Indian counterpart, with whom she shares strategic affinities. And she is willing to position her country to attract new investments and become part of global supply chains.

“So, we have a country with strong potential in economic terms. I would also like to add, as one of the indicators, that this is a rather model country in terms of public finance management, with a debt level of around 40%.

“The country is not being squeezed by creditors, as can be the case in some other developing countries. It is a country with very solid economic fundamentals, high potential, and an extremely positive trend over the last 10-15 years, which has enabled Bangladesh to truly emerge from an economic point of view.

“And this brings me to our bilateral relationship, a desire on our part and on the part of the President of the Republic to be part of this economic trend in order to structure a partnership with Bangladesh in sectors where we are extremely strong.

“I am thinking in particular of energy issues, with the idea of being able to supply Bangladesh with the energy it needs for its development. Today, its energy is very carbon-intensive,” according to the briefing document.

“We also want to move forward in strategic segments such as aeronautics. As you know, a communique to acquire Airbus aircraft was signed in May. We will be discussing this again with the Bangladeshis just before and during the visit. Also, support for the whole energy transition and adaptation to climate change.”

Determined to support Bangladesh

“This is essentially the role of the Agence Francaise du Developpement (AFD), which has tripled its commitment in Bangladesh, and here, as you can see in the continuity of the Presidential Council for Development, we are in fact supporting a country whose ambition is to adapt to climate change, and we are increasing our commitment as this development continues.

“So, our commitment has tripled in recent years, reaching a total of almost €2 billion. A further €1 billion are now in the pipeline for AFD projects over the next 3 years.

“This is our roadmap: a determination to support Bangladesh in its development and also to provide it with the means to overcome its challenges. I mentioned the ecological transition and adaptation to climate change.

“But the same applies to crises. We can come back to this if you like, as we want to provide humanitarian support to the Rohingya refugees who are present on Bangladeshi territory, while at the same time converging on major global issues. We could also come back to it to try and help Bangladesh overcome these challenges.

“The president received Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 14. He stopped off in Sri Lanka for a historic visit, as it was the first presidential visit ever. Now he is off to Bangladesh. So, in the space of six months, as you can see, we have done more in South Asia than in decades,” the spokesperson said replying to a question.

“So there really is a very strong political will to commit to an area with very, very high potential in the region. Additionally, and this is extremely important, these countries are also turning towards us.

“This is also the major difference compared to several decades ago, in that they are turning towards us, under very strong pressure from China, the United States, and Russia for some of them, notably India and Bangladesh, on strategic issues.”

The French president is coming to Bangladesh at the invitation of Sheikh Hasina.

“Sheikh Hasina had been inviting the president for years. And finally, we have this opportunity within the framework of the Indo-Pacific strategy, as you all know by heart, but I would like to stress it again, a regional approach with the whole of South Asia that will enable us to have an extremely strong political will.”

There will be ministerial visits after the president's visit, to ensure follow-up, to set up projects and thus take this relationship to a “new level”.

Is France offering itself as an alternative supplier of nuclear energy?

“We are listening to the Bangladeshis, which means we need to take a more holistic approach, in the energy sector. We want this visit to accelerate discussions on Bangladesh's energy needs.

“There will then be meetings at various levels to identify their needs. In the end, we are talking about nuclear power, because we do have expertise in this field. As you know, the president has also relaunched the entire nuclear industry.

“We also have credibility with our foreign partners in terms of our medium and long-term commitment to a strong industry. And beyond nuclear power, we have expertise in all sectors.

“I am thinking of hydroelectricity, bearing in mind that Bangladesh backs onto the Himalayan foothills and is the crossing point for Asia's biggest rivers, notably the Brahmaputra.

“So, we have prospects in hydroelectricity, to see if there are also opportunities in other renewable energies, bearing in mind that there are constraints, particularly in terms of availability of land, and I am thinking of solar energy.

“But in any case, these projects are set up with the Bangladeshi authorities, and it is only on this basis that we can move forward,” added the briefing.

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