H.E. Winnie Estrup Petersen, Ambassador of Denmark to Bangladesh

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In Pursuit of Vision 2021

DENMARK-BANGLADESH’S COLLABORATIVE SUCCESS

40 YEARS OF EMPOWERING PARTNERSHIP

Last Year the Crown Princess of Denmark visited areas in Southern Bangladesh to help women in agriculture get the best value for their labor. In regards to this, what is the Danish government’s commitment to women’s empowerment in Bangladesh?
The Government of the Kingdom of Denmark and the Government of Bangladesh have enjoyed more than 40 years of development cooperation. Denmark has given priority to areas where the Danish engagement can contribute to transforming lives of the citizens of Bangladesh. Our current focus is on poverty reduction, employment in the agriculture sector, climate resilience, and access to sustainable energy as well as governance and human rights.

Agriculture remains a key sector, as it provides over 45% of total household income and employs nearly half of the country’s workforce, especially the rural poor. In our development programs, 50% of the target group are women. The support to poor marginalized farmers, especially women farmers, is a strategic Danish priority for Bangladesh. The Crown Princess of Denmark has a strong commitment to promoting women’s and girls’ rights and active participation in society on all accounts; economically, socially and democratically. During her visit, she was impressed with the empowerment of the women involved in the project here.

While gender equality over the years has improved much in Bangladesh, there is still a need to address gender-based violence and equal access to health, education, and employment-benefits for women in our society in so many ways. Economic participation of women surely contributes to accelerating the growth that Bangladesh sees.

Having said all that, Bangladesh is Asia’s fastest growing economy with emerging consumer markets. Danish companies view this as a potential to invest in.

The Danish government pledged 335 million DKK in support of various development projects in Bangladesh. What is the progress so far on these projects?
The Bangladesh Country Programme (BCP) 2016-2021 provides Denmark and Bangladesh with a coherent framework that assembles a wide range of activities into a whole to improve the strategic dialogue and increase the impact of the partnership. The projects fall into three thematic clusters, namely Agricultural Growth and Employment, Climate Resilience, and Governance and Rights. The individual projects of the Country Programme are being implemented on the ground in partnership with government agencies, the UN, NGOs, civil society, and the private sector.
We have just finished the first phase of an agricultural development project focused on skills development for some of the poorest farmers in Bangladesh (visited by the Crown princess). The approach has been the so-called ‘farmer field school project’, where groups of farmers, both men, and women, have been trained in integrated farm management and ‘farming as a family business’. We have seen good results and hope to be able to continue with a second phase of the project.

Another one of our projects is providing affordable, high quality, and climate-smart water and sanitation solution to some of the most remote and impoverished areas of southern Bangladesh. The solutions provided are in cooperation with the local government institutions to ensure the efforts are sustainable beyond the Danish support. The support is adapted to the impact of climate change in the region by enhancing the climate resilience of the beneficiaries.

Thirdly, one of our projects is focused on the rights of women by zooming in on violence against women. Here we have partnered with the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs. We are reaching out nationwide through a number of operational one-stop crisis centres for women affected by violence. The project has been successful and another phase is envisaged from 2021. After this phase, we believe that the Ministry will take over the project, testifying to the sustainability of the project.

It is very early to talk about the results for 2018 as they are still being consolidated. However, we do have a website for Danish Aid, which we call ‘Open Aid’. The site lists all our ongoing projects and we report all the expenditures there too.

When it comes to private investors from Denmark, what are the areas of interest, in the context of Bangladesh?
As I have already said, Bangladesh is the fastest growing economy in Asia, with an interesting emerging consumer market. Danish companies see great opportunities in coming here and participating in this growth. With a market potential for more than 165 million people and with a very entrepreneurial private sector that is seeking innovations and smart technologies, this market is very attractive for Danish companies.

If you ask me, what is in it for Bangladesh, I would say it is in our Danish business models, which promote the Sustainable Development Goals through business. Companies need to co-fund the achievement of the SDGs. Denmark’s business models also focus on respecting human rights and adhere to strong compliance policies, especially in terms of anti-corruption.

Going towards the full graduation as an upper middle-income country and losing the commercial and financial benefits that poor countries have, Bangladesh will need FDIs. Given that Bangladesh ranks poorly on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, it is necessary to improve the business climate over the coming years.

Traditionally, Danish companies look forward to investing in the RMG sector in Bangladesh to enhance productivity. On top of that, they would like to share the ‘know-how’ or their expertise on how to integrate power and water efficiency in the production to make it environment-friendly. Denmark has the experience in moving towards efficient use of resources as well as sustainable and worker-friendly production in all steps of the value chain.

The pharmaceutical sector is the new and important industry in Bangladesh. Denmark can help by introducing research and innovation in the industry as well as by bringing knowledge and technologies to the market. Similar to the RMG sector, it is important to innovate within the sector to secure growth and diversification.

Danish investments present in Bangladesh record back to the 1970s in areas such as the dairy sector (DANO-Arla), pharmaceutical (Novo Nordisk), shipping and logistics (Maersk) and fertilizer sector (KAFCO). Today, the investment portfolio is much broader with new investments in the FMCG sector, building materials and constructions, ICT services as well as services and equipment set up.

Denmark wants to strengthen trade relations with Bangladesh and our Embassy is fully committed to supporting this process with a trade and commercial section (called The Trade Council), which supports Danish-Bangladesh commercial interests.

Danish Aid was one of the first donors towards the WFP’s effort in the Rohingya crisis, followed by a further donation of $4.6 million. What are Denmark’s future commitments to this cause?
Denmark is strongly engaged to keep the focus of the international community on the need for a durable solution to the Rohingya crisis, permitting the Rohingyas to return to Myanmar voluntarily and safely. We have been working diplomatically, within the EU and bilaterally in Myanmar in order to push for a change in Myanmar in order for a safe passage for the refugees to return.
Denmark will continue to work with a broad range of international, multinational, and bilateral organizations, including Danish NGOs to provide support to this situation. We are actively engaged with stakeholders on the ground in an attempt to ensure a basic quality of life for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and Myanmar as well as providing funding to ensure that the host communities are not adversely affected by the influx of refugees. This is part of our effort to ensure that the two communities can co-exist peacefully for the time being.

In October last year, the Danish Minister for Development Cooperation together with the Director of WFP visited WFP and other Danish government-supported humanitarian projects on protection, food, and shelter for the refugees in order to ensure continued international focus on this crisis. Denmark has recently allocated a further $12.7 million to improve the living conditions among local host communities impacted by the mass migrations.

Copenhagen is soon set to become the first carbon-neutral capital. What can Bangladesh learn from Denmark in the matter of eco-friendly practices?
In Denmark, we are fully committed to our responsibilities to reduce our contribution to climate change and are willing to show that it is indeed possible to combine growth, development and good quality of life while lowering carbon dioxide emission.

In the path to becoming the world’s first carbon neutral capital, the City of Copenhagen is:
Firstly, reducing the energy consumed both by residential and commercial structures. Secondly, it is replacing coal, oil, and natural gas used in the energy production process with wind power, sustainable biomass, geothermal energy, and solar power. Thirdly, we are lowering emissions from road transport by encouraging travel by foot, bicycle or public transport. Lastly, Copenhagen’s city administration is leading by example by cutting their own energy use and using alternative fuels. Of course, Bangladesh is making headway in many areas. It would be valuable for Bangladesh to invest in renewable energy, initiate targets for carbon reduction, improve energy efficiency, and utilize many other methods that are available and suitable for the country. I feel it is important to set yourself targets and include all areas of society to figure out how to get there in the best possible way. Denmark is always there to support Bangladesh in the green growth through business and development initiatives.

There is significant interest in Dairy Farming and Agro-culture, how can these companies help us in achieving green growth?
I believe technology is the answer here. One example is Novozymes, a Danish company, which has made significant strides to reduce water usage in the garments sector. An estimated 240 litres of water per kilo of clothing is required to dye denim jeans. Novozymes and their latest technology can help reduce that significantly and it’s a protein-based natural product. The development rate in technology is moving at an unprecedented rate, thus it is often unpredictable to say what the future holds.

Governance is one area where the Danish government has commitment in our country, what kind of programs do you have to ensure governance?
The Danish government can only contribute to Bangladesh’s efforts in cultivating governance and working with our partners in the civil society and NGO’s. I’m happy to see the strong commitment of the honourable Prime Minister to curb corruption. Corruption is a major impediment to growth. Strong governance ensures greater dividend in growth, development, research, business and all areas. I believe that we can only bring change through collective efforts for improved transparency and better governance.

As Bangladesh is planning to become a middle-income country by 2021, what are the challenges we are bound to face?
There are a lot of issues already mentioned in the Ease of Doing Business Index, produced by the World Bank. As there are no quick win options, I think discussion is required between Bangladesh and its partners and businesses on how to problem solve around the challenges. There is definitely a need for a strong and independent legal sector and the judiciary so that foreign companies coming here can be sure of contract enforcement. Failure to guarantee that puts the foreign company in a risky position.

When it comes to skill development, does the Danish government have any programs in Bangladesh?
The programs are mainly towards labours and farmers’ skills development. We have started a new project to provide vocational training for youth as it is such an important area for Bangladesh’s growth. We are in the process of discussing with our partners as we go towards this new stage as to whether we can provide technical support and how we can advance the growth of Bangladesh.

Is there anything specific in the area of poverty reduction and climate resilience that we can look forward to as a result of bolstered Bangladesh-Denmark cooperation in 2019?
Our ambition in the short term is to consolidate our results as well as the 15 partnerships that we have under the current country program. During the Midterm evaluation, we check to see if there is a need to connect the farmers with the markets. Value addition and agri-business development open up opportunities to bring Danish expertise and solutions into play. Denmark has something to offer here and we would like to explore the opportunities for joining Danish investments and inclusive and sustainable economic growth in Bangladesh.
Climate adaptation, rural infrastructure, and local economic development go hand in hand. Therefore, we want to see if we can become better at integrating access to markets and climate resilience as we go forward.

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