In an Interview with Dhaka Tribune’s Saqib Sarker, Peter Fahrenholtz, German ambassador to Bangladesh, talks about bilateral relations, democracy, climate change and more. This is the first part of a two-part interview
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career as a diplomat.
I started out working for a large bank in Germany, which I found to be a little boring, being there every day only counting money and thinking about money. Now I am happy working for the diplomatic circles of Germany, which I find very fulfilling.
I have worked in 15 countries overall, and I have visited more than 100 countries in the world. I was in Romania when the revolution happened in Christmas 1989, when they overthrew the communist regime. I was in Japan when the big earthquake happened in January 1995. I worked in Iran for four years. And I was in India for two years, so I learned a little bit about countries in South Asia then. I worked in Africa for 10 years, and it was very interesting to see how many countries in Africa are progressing so much. Africa is in the immediate neighborhood of Europe. I was in Barcelona.
Before I came to Bangladesh I worked in Canada, where there is a large diaspora of Bangladeshi citizens who live and work there. And now since August I am here in Bangladesh, which I enjoy very much.
Bangladesh and Germany have very strong economic ties, with Germany being the largest trading partner of Bangladesh in Europe and second largest globally. This is obviously very important for Bangladesh as a developing country. How important it is for Germany, and do you think the economic ties will get stronger with time?
I think there is a great potential in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has the eighth largest population in the world. It has shown great economic performance, economic growth and even per capita growth has been tremendous. We see great potential, and German companies are very interested to invest in Bangladesh. But what the government needs to do urgently is to improve the ease of doing business. In this area, Bangladesh has shown very weak performance, being 176 out of 190 countries, which is very poor. If Bangladesh wants to have more investment from Europe, especially from Germany, this has to be improved very much, urgently. And then I can promise you many German companies will come here to invest, create jobs and transfer technology.
More than 90% of the imports from Bangladesh are textile products. Will the German government encourage the Bangladeshi government for greater union and worker rights?
In Germany, our system is based on consensus. Germans are very consensus oriented. And we understand that if you look at the economy, in business there are different actors. You have the capital owners, you have the management and you have the workers. All of them contribute to the output of the economy. So workers and their rights need to be protected. This is one of secrets of success of the German economy. Our unions are strong, our workers have many rights and privileges, and worker representatives sit on the boards of companies by law. This has led to a peaceful cooperation of workers, unions, management and capital owners, which results in high productivity and profits in the long run.
We would like Bangladesh to have more regulations favouring workers. For example, accident insurance for garment workers, which would be of minimal cost to the owners of companies and give great protection for garment workers.
The Bangladesh government has asked Germany to provide assistance on the Rohingya issue, particularly to mount political pressure on Myanmar. Germany in turn has provided material support and pledged for more support, mainly financial. What role do you see Germany playing in the ongoing crisis?
Germany will be in the Security Council of the United Nations for two years starting first of January next year. The Rohingya crisis is one of the global challenges we are facing, and I can assure you Germany will do whatever it can to assist Bangladesh in resolving this situation. We will be looking at additional financial support, and also other measures we would take in assisting to find a solution to this issue. We want to commend Bangladesh for its generous hospitality to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Myanmar.