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Dhaka Tribune

Irish Minister: Bangladesh should see Ireland as a friend in EU

  • ‘Two countries willing to build closer and more structured cooperation’
  • ‘Bangladesh going to receive transition period from 2026 to 2029’
Update : 21 Mar 2024, 09:21 PM

Irish Minister for Enterprise, Trade, and Employment Simon Coveney has said Bangladesh will get Ireland as a friend in the European Union (EU), and the two countries are willing to build closer and more structured cooperation in broader areas.

“What I would say is that Bangladesh should see Ireland as a friend in the European Union that can raise issues for them, potentially work with them, and if they're trying to work through some difficult issues with the European Commission,” he said in an exclusive interview before wrapping up his two-day official visit to Dhaka.

The Irish minister said Bangladesh is going to receive a transition period from 2026 to 2029, and then Bangladesh will be looking for GSP plus status, which effectively is a sort of preferential status in terms of tariffs and trade opportunities.

“So, I think the EU is open to that. Of course, there will be some conditions that the EU will want from Bangladesh as well, in relation to, you know, what the EU would regard as important: modernization around labour laws, worker rights, and environmental issues. That's normal for the EU. It's for every country,” Coveney said.

He said they always try to push environmental improvements, working conditions, and labour improvements. "But I think all of that is very doable.”

During a meeting with Coveney, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina sought Ireland's support in Bangladesh's efforts to enjoy preferential trade facilities in the EU market until 2032 instead of 2029 during the country's post-graduation period.

Responding to a question, the Irish minister said he spoke with the prime minister a little bit about the areas where Ireland and Bangladesh could be partners.

From a trade perspective, he said, there is certainly opportunity here for Irish companies in areas like technology, aviation, food and nutrition, and pharmaceuticals.

Regarding his meeting with prime minister's Private Industries and Investment Adviser Salman F Rahman, Coveney said it was a detailed discussion around how they could put structure around this relationship.

“He (Salman) made it clear that he wanted to visit Ireland with some ministers and businesspeople so that we can try to build partnerships between Ireland and Bangladesh,” he said.

Minister Coveney said they have also looked at other ways in which they could potentially make a positive contribution to economic growth here.

They talked about the strategic economic zones that are being created here for countries to encourage companies to come and provide quality employment and income.

During his two-day visit, Coveney discussed the status of Bangladesh, which is essentially moving from a low-income country to a higher-income country, and how that might change the relationship in terms of tariff-free access to the EU.

He reiterated that Ireland is a country that wants to be a friend of Bangladesh in the EU, and they could work with them in the future to make sure that the EU understands their perspective.

“I spoke to the deputy head of the EU Embassy here, and he would say that the relationship between the EU and Bangladesh has never been better than now,” he said, adding that “I mean, no relationship is perfect. But it's a positive, strong relationship today.”

Climate Change Response

The Irish minister said Ireland needs to be a strong advocate for a climate change response. “There are very few countries in the world that are as exposed to climate change as Bangladesh—in terms of flooding, monsoons, and tsunamis. This is a country that knows what it means to lose a lot of lives because of extreme weather.”

So, he said, naturally there is a lot of interest in responding to climate change to try to prevent more extreme weather in the future.

“Ireland wants to be a leader in that area. We're very heavily invested in renewable energy and in decarbonizing our economy. And we're very happy to share the technologies that we're investing in to do that,” he said.

Coveney thinks that climate change may well be a “strategic area of cooperation” between Bangladesh and Ireland.

For Bangladesh, it will be not only climate change mitigation but also climate change adaptation, and so Ireland is making a lot more money available now in terms of climate finance internationally.

“We're committed to getting up to 225 million euros a year of climate finance funded by Ireland. And most of that money will be going into adaptation, putting in place new infrastructure to help countries be more resilient to the dangers of climate change. And Bangladesh, I think, is a country that we can work with in that regard,” he added.

Education Sector Cooperation

The Irish minister said students in Bangladesh should look at Ireland as a destination for higher studies, particularly for post-grads.

“We have a very good education system. I'm glad to say that we're an English-speaking country. We're still part of the European Union. And I think a lot of the Bangladeshi students that come to Ireland enjoy themselves, and they feel like they're valued in Ireland, which they are,” he said.

The minister said they have 10,000 Indian students in Ireland this year. “So, we'd like to see more diversity. And that's why students from Bangladesh as well would be very welcome.”

There are about 17,000 Bangladeshis in Ireland today, he said, adding that “what I hear is that they have a very positive experience in Ireland. And we want to work hard to keep it that way so that they feel welcome, get a high-quality education, and make good connections in terms of future business and employment opportunities.”

IT Sector

The IT sector is another potential area that one should seriously consider. The Irish minister said Ireland is, in many ways, referred to as the Silicon Valley of Europe. It’s got nine of the top 10 tech companies in the world with a big presence in Ireland.”

He said all the big players are in Ireland, and they employ large numbers of people there.

“So, the Irish tech industry has been driven by multinationals. But there're also a lot of Irish technology companies in areas like cyber security, digital payment systems, and digital banking,” he said.

The Irish minister said there is a lot of research in relation to AI, machine learning, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

“So, the Irish tech ecosystem is a real mixture of multinationals and Irish companies. So what hopefully we can do is encourage some of the Irish tech companies to come and look at the opportunities here in Bangladesh, to work with partners here, whether it's the banking system, or whether it's the service industry, or whatever.”

Aviation Sector

“I think there're some interesting opportunities in aviation as well. Ireland has a very large aviation industry, and about half of the planes in the world are leased out of Ireland,” he said.

There are a lot of Irish companies involved in different elements of aviation, from manufacturing to entertainment systems to servicing and financing aeroplanes.

“And we see the Irish aviation industry playing quite a big part in India and also in the Gulf states—in places like Saudi Arabia and Dubai. There's no reason why they can't do the same here,” said Coveney.

“As the aviation industry here grows, there will be more and more middle-income families in Bangladesh, and that means more people are flying. And you're building a new airport, of course, or a new terminal. So, we think there are opportunities to partner there with Irish companies,” he said.

On the Rohingya issue, he said it has been here for a very long time, and Ireland had agreed to provide one and a half million euros extra to support the work through the UNHCR.

He also spoke about some of the difficult challenges there around security, education, and health care.

“The view in Bangladesh is that they want the Rohingya to be able to return home safely to Myanmar. Of course, that's what we want as well. But the conditions perhaps aren't there to allow that for now,” he said.

“So, I gave a commitment that Ireland would try to work internationally to help in efforts to put pressure on the authorities in Myanmar to facilitate a safe return. We will continue to financially support the efforts and support Irish NGOs that are working to try to ensure that Rohingya refugees are treated as human beings and that they're supported in their health and education needs,” he added.

Asked about the high-level visit, the Irish minister said there is an open invitation for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to visit Ireland anytime.

This is the first visit of a senior government minister to Bangladesh, and this is the beginning. “And I'll certainly be reporting back to my prime minister that there's a real opportunity here. And also, a real, very warm welcome, which is important.

The minister paid homage to Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman by placing a floral wreath at Bangabandhu's portrait at Dhanmondi-32 and observed a minute of silence in memory of all those martyred on August 15, 1975.

He also had a tour of the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum and signed the Visitor's Book.

“It was a reminder of the sacrifice that her (PM Hasina) family has given for freedom in Bangladesh and for independence,” he said.

Earlier, the Irish Minister and PM Hasina talked about the parallels between Irish history and the history of Bangladesh in terms of sacrifice, struggles, and violence in order to achieve independence and economic sovereignty.

Talking about the newly appointed honorary consul here, he said Masud Jamil Khan is a very enthusiastic person to make a positive contribution. “So, this is the first time that Ireland will have a diplomatic physical presence here.”

During the visit, Coveney inaugurated his country's first honorary consulate in Dhaka, seen as a milestone in strengthening Bangladesh-Ireland relations.

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