Dutch Ambassador to Bangladesh Anne van Leeuwen has described the coming years and decades as "very promising" in terms of cooperation with Bangladesh with the larger involvement of the private sector keeping in mind the transition from aid to trade.
While delivering his keynote speech on "Bangladesh-Netherlands Relations: Prognosis for the Future" he identified the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in Bangladesh and laid emphasis on addressing those to move towards a brighter future on a win-win basis.
"So we are seeing the coming years and even decades very, very promising for a closer cooperation in the field of agri food and water management with a larger involvement of the private sector," said Ambassador Leeuwen.
Cosmos Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Cosmos Group, hosted the dialogue premiered on Thursday (21 July) night as part of its ongoing Ambassador's Lecture Series.
The opening remarks were delivered by Cosmos Foundation Executive Director Nahar Khan. The session was chaired by Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, a renowned scholar-diplomat and former Advisor on Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh Caretaker Government.
Professors at Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka Dr Amena Mohsin and Dr Lailufar Yasmin; and Honorary Advisor Emeritus, Cosmos Foundation Ambassador (Retd) Tariq A Karim comprised the panel of discussants.
Nahar Khan said the Netherlands and Bangladesh have maintained an enduring friendship over the past 50 years and continue to share deep ties.
Khan mentioned that the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 provides a key entry point for future collaboration between the two countries.
Echoing Nahar Khan, Dr Iftekhar Chowdhury said the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 remains a key focal point of future collaboration between Bangladesh and the Netherlands.
Dutch expertise on waterworks will not only assist us to be a delta resilient blue economy, but also help agricultural production which will acquire great significance in the post-Ukraine war future economy, he said.
Dr Lailafur Yasmin identified three particular strengths that Bangladesh has which they often fail to recognise.
She finds the number one strength is the maritime sector and noted that Bangladesh now stands as a blessing of geography.
Dr Lailafur said the second strength is the land-centric importance of Bangladesh while number three is something that demography as natural resources.
Dr Amena Mohsin said the construction of the Padma Bridge with internal resources has brightened the country's image.
"The ambassador talked about the image issue. Yes, I agree that Bangladesh suffers from an image issue. But one has to also look at the history of Bangladesh and its political history…the kind of history that Bangladesh inherited, is quite different from the history that the West has," she said.
Talking about the Delta Plan, Tariq Karim said they have to learn how to do their diplomacy in a manner that they can ensure that Delta does not die.
"If the source of the Delta dies, we die. If we die today, we are 170 million people, what will be the population if the Delta Plan does not succeed," he said.
The Dutch envoy said it is important for them to find close cooperation in the region - Indo Pacific - with like-minded democracies and countries with open market economies that they feel are their natural allies.
"And in the first place, Bangladesh fits into that category. And I think what we are also having in common with Bangladesh," he said.
The ambassador said there is so much that the two countries have in common there is so much that they recognize and that is the landscape in the geography.
Looking back to friendship and cooperation, he said those 50 years of course have been the first decades really on the basis of official development assistance to Bangladesh.
"We have always seen Bangladesh as a partner here. Bangladesh has always been in the top of the recipients of official development assistance. And now Bangladesh is on the brink of graduating to a middle income country which means that we have to recalibrate in the next coming years," said the envoy.
Highlighting Bangladesh's strengths, the envoy said Bangladesh is one of the fastest growing economies in the Indo Pacific and it has relative political stability, a large workforce and a demographic dividend.
There is strong infrastructure and a very strong and growing consumer market due to its expanding middle class, he said.
The Dutch envoy mentioned the lack of diversification of the economy as a weakness. "I mean, 80 or 90% of the export basket is still in RMG. So that's absolutely a weakness", he added.
The long lead time for shipping of products is something that they see as a challenge.
Also, among other challenges, are the low ranking of Bangladesh in terms of the ease of doing business and the perception of corruption, he observed.
In response to a query from the Chair, the ambassador also addressed the subject of market-access into Europe following graduation from the list of Least Developed Countries, and the need to overcome some of the aforesaid constraints to facilitate that.
On opportunities, he said, "I think they are remarkable. There are opportunities being created by the government."
The Dutch envoy said he is absolutely convinced that it will be a very beneficial cooperation where Bangladesh and the Netherlands will benefit as they always try to strive for a win-win situation. "We are partners in trying to find common ground and to work together in a win-win situation."