German ambassador to Bangladesh Achim Tröster has said Bangladeshi RMG exports to Germany are likely to be strongly affected as German consumers tighten their purses in the midst of the Ukraine war.
"We are not only affected by the consequences of the Russian aggression on Ukrainian soil but we are also affected by the inflation rates (as is Bangladesh) which are on the rise and are currently at levels which the Federal Republic of Germany has not seen so far. This results in a dwindling purchasing power of our compatriots," the ambassador said as he shared his views on the war and its impacts during a visit to The Business Standard (TBS) office on 2 August.
He added that Bangladesh needs to comply with human rights, labour rights and environmental standards to get preferential treatment in the European Union (EU) under the GSP+ scheme after it graduates from the least developed country (LDC) status.
As per German ambassador Achim Tröster, RMG orders have "gone down significantly" in the past months and many warehouses across Europe are still stocked with unused inventory due to the still reverberating illegal Russian aggression on Ukraine and the worldwide rate of inflation.
"I think this is one of the things that German consumers will refrain from buying that is why it is also important for the Bangladeshi garment industry to diversify and to concentrate more on products that have a higher value. That means selling more expensive products that require a much more skilled workforce," said the ambassador.
Tröster further said Bangladesh should under no circumstances take for granted GSP+ facilities following LDC graduation as the EU is likely to be very inflexible in ensuring that all 27 conventions linked to the facility are fulfilled by Bangladesh.
"It is quite clear that Bangladesh will ask for some preferential treatment after its LDC graduation in 2026 and the expiration of the grace period in 2029. The EU offers preferential treatment for countries that are not on the LDC list anymore, through the GSP+ facilities," said the ambassador.
The GSP+ conventions are a specific type of compliance with the 27 international conventions that refer to human rights, labour rights and environmental standards, all of which have been signed by Bangladesh. The key to availing of these is not necessarily tied to 100 % compliance with all the stipulations of the conventions right now but an ability to show and prove an upward trend overall.
"According to what domestic analysts and close observers of the situation say, this might be a challenge for Bangladesh. This is something that is not as self-evident as it may seem, it is an important step that needs to be actively taken by the Bangladeshi government."
The ambassador intimated that this is not a problem that can be circumvented by political negotiation.
"Bangladesh should prepare itself to meet these conventions by 2029 because everyone on the EU side will most likely be very inflexible when the time comes," said the ambassador. A vast majority of the parties concerned in the EU organisations want Bangladesh to comply, whereas some voices in Bangladesh would like a simple continuation of the current status quo of the "Everything but Arms" regime.
The majority of the west deals with immediate economic blowback due to the extensive sanctions levied against Russia. According to Tröster, Bangladesh may also find itself suffering from growing pains as it leaves behind its (least developed country) LDC status.
German foreign policy has seen the biggest change since the start of the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine. "This is the first time my country has changed its stance on foreign relations since the end of World War II," revealed the ambassador. It marks the first time Germany has supplied a foreign power in a military conflict with heavy arms and artillery.
When asked about the conflict in Western Europe and how Germany plans to tackle what is shaping up to be a harsh winter the ambassador said, "We are living in times that are challenging, my country for the first time in its existence since '49 is faced with a situation that it has not had before. I think a big question mark is put on the way the German economy but also on how the society has been functioning so far. The opinion of most of our politicians is that German society and the German economy are put to the test and I think we will stand the test. We do not know how long Russia will persevere in illegally and brutally attacking a peaceful neighbouring country. This is something we as a member of the EU and the broader international community, cannot simply accept, but I know that our politicians and my compatriots are willing to face these challenges."
Germany is one of the biggest export markets for Bangladesh and the two countries' bilateral trade volume is growing steadily. This is encouraged by EU tariff preferences granted under the "Everything but Arms" arrangement. Over 90% of Bangladeshi exports to Germany are textiles. Bangladesh imports machinery as well as chemical products and electrical goods from Germany.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has painfully evinced the world's absolute dependency on non-renewable energy.
TBS asked for the ambassador's perspective on the future of the energy crisis.
"It remains obvious that the current German government has a big focus on renewable energy and its commitment to positive climate action despite the war in Europe. Bangladesh and Germany are undertaking cooperation, negotiation and consultation in that vein. In March we had a delegation from our development cooperation ministry here and they offered Bangladesh a privileged partnership on climate and development. It remains to be filled with concrete ideas, but I think it is clear-cut and is also in line with the wishes of the Bangladeshi government. It will concentrate on adaptation and mitigation. We will intensify our cooperation with a foundational emphasis on renewable energy," said Tröster.
Since the start of his tenure in Dhaka, the ambassador has shared his diplomatic talents and his trove of knowledge and experience with some of the most powerful economic and political entities in the country. Achim Tröster is a proponent of Bangladeshi advancement and is quite encouraging of the individuals that best embody Bangladeshi excellence and continues to be a brilliant mediator for the two countries' continued cooperation.
The German ambassador Tröster and Deputy Head of Mission (Economic and Press) Jan-Rolf Janowski shared a meal with TBS Editor Inam Ahmed, Executive Editor Sharier Khan, Managing Editor Chowdhury Khaled Masood and senior journalists. They expressed their views on the war and its impacts during the visit to the newspaper office on 2 August.