“We are happy about the improved economic relations between Europe and Bangladesh over the years which means it has become relatively easier to do business.’”
Mayaudon has an extensive diplomatic and defence background in the French administration, including as deputy director within the ministry of defence, and diplomatic postings in Singapore and as ambassador to Vanuatu. Before coming to Bangladesh, he was serving as the deputy head of the EU delegation to Pakistan.
At the GSA conference you mentioned that Bangladesh has gone through a fascinating journey where they have now become a trade dependent country from being an aid dependent country in the 80s. Would you like to elaborate on this?
Bangladesh has undergone a fantastic across the board transformation over the last 20-30 years which is well documented through various social and economic indicators. We can observe that in most MDGs, Bangladesh has achieved the targets or they are well on their way to achieving them which is a very positive indicator. This evolution has been beneficial for the people in terms of the education, healthcare and other services they are receiving. Even though the situation has changed, aid still remains an important component but it is not like the massive aid required in the 80s, now it is smarter and more fine-tuned towards specific angles. Of course there is room for improvement but the movement has been in the right direction. We have decided that at the end of our consultation here we will focus on education and skill development; nutrition and food security; and lastly sanctioning democratic governance.
I want to emphasize that more focus is still required in the area of skill development. We want to make a contribution in this field and make a difference. Hence we plan on starting a program which will help improve Bangladesh’s offer of labor to the global community.
Can you give us any information regarding what this skill development program is composed of?
I cannot go into exact details at this point. What I can say is we are now designing this program in very close consultation with the Government and the private sector. It is very encouraging and inspiring to see the huge appetite of the private sector to work with Europe for this skill development program. It also helps that the program is in line with the objectives set by the government to diversify the Bangladeshi economy and its industries in the four sectors of shipbuilding, pharmaceuticals, leather products and IT. The project will take place over seven years and by 2020 we want to be able to say that we have made a difference in the field of skill development.
What are your thoughts on the current relations between Bangladesh and the European Union?
We are happy about the improved economic relations between Europe and Bangladesh over the years which means it has become relatively easier to do business. We don’t oppose aid and trade we consider them two sides of the same coin. As we have a buyer and supplier relationship with Bangladesh, in regards to the RMG sector, we are extremely glad about the progress being achieved in it. We know Europe in this way contributes to 10% of the Bangladeshi GDP and we also take pride in the fact that we have contributed to the empowerment of millions of women in Bangladesh.
Normally our mission is to find a solution which is partial and segment driven and will better economic relations. Exports from Bangladesh to Europe will continue to increase, not only in the RMG sector but also in other sectors where, of course, exports from the EU to Bangladesh will also be part of the scheme. Also investments from Europe to Bangladesh will further develop. We know it won’t be simple there are obstacles that are not specific to Bangladesh but are present in many developing countries. Economic development does not always come together with alleviation of restrictions. Bangladesh to a large extent remains protectionist to tariff and non-tariff barriers. We intend on addressing the difficulties with the relevant local stakeholders.
We have started this journey with the European Union Business Council Bangladesh (EUBCB). We have already done a large part of the work with the EU private sector based in Dhaka and we have identified several objectives. One of them is to be a positive contributor to the Companies Act. We know it’s a very important objective for the Government to revisit the Companies act and to make it more business friendly for both local operators and foreign industrialists and companies. We have come up with proper concrete suggestions with the help of the World Bank which we will take to the Government in order to make a useful contribution to the revision of the Companies Act. This will help improve the business climate in Bangladesh.
What is the main bottleneck in bringing more FDI?
There are several issues such as political and regulatory uncertainty. A little more clarity is required regarding some of the regulatory frameworks. Companies when dealing with the different Government departments often get answers which vary from one department to the other. This makes things difficult for potential investors. Also Bangladesh needs to properly document and highlight success stories in terms of foreign investments so that others are encouraged to follow in their footsteps. However, more foreign investors will only do this if they get some guarantee regarding political stability and about the long term sustainability of their investment in Bangladesh.
Again there is a need for a clearer regulatory framework. When we see for example in specific sectors like freight forwarding where there were concerning rumors circulated by the media that in this sector newcomers would have to join forces with a local partner but what was indicated was that the partnership would be beneficial for the foreign investor. Now it will give a lot of power to the local investor which is subject for concern from our perspective.
Other than skill development, how can the European Union contribute to emerging sectors like shipbuilding, pharmaceuticals, leather and IT?
Other than the skill development technology transfer will be a key proponent in helping these sectors. If European companies come here they will either partner up with local investors or they will start businesses in sectors where which do not have too many operators like ship building. There have been promising extensions between European and local shipyards. We need to push endeavors like these to further the angle of technology transfer.
In the specific sector of technology transfer we have a huge research and innovation program by the name of Horizon 2020. Altogether, worldwide, it is an 80 billion euro project started with the aim to encourage international cooperation in science, research and innovation with very close concentration on the current market scenario. The motto of Horizon 2020 is, “from the lab to the market”. The headquarters in Brussels circulates causes for proposals worldwide and parties who are interested can take part. This can be companies, universities, individual researchers, etc. If they can identify one particular cause which falls into their area of expertise they can submit an offer with a proposal in cooperation with at least three European counterparts. If their proposal is accepted by the Horizon office then the cause that was to be supported by Bangladesh and the Bangladeshi entity will be 100% covered by the European Union. The idea is great but it is not an easy process as only a third of all the proposals are selected.
MDGs are over. What issues must Bangladesh focus on to help them achieve the 17 SDG goals?
One issue we have to single out which is also relevant in the context of MDGs is climate change. Bangladesh is one of the countries which is most vulnerable to climate changes so we must take steps to limit its impact. We have seen the consequences of this from our field visits where communities had to reorient their businesses towards an activity which was not threatened by climate change as their land had eroded away. For Bangladesh it is an absolute priority to find solutions which will limit the impact of climate change. There is the possibility of benefiting from international financial contributions like the Green Climate Fund which helps by providing 50% of the resources to countries fighting the effects of climate change. This calls for demonstrating that there is a need so that all relevant stakeholders here are mobilized and ready to contribute at home in regards to this endeavor. Also proper financial statements must be in place to benefit from these international financial contributions.