Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr. Dipu Moni has been travelling across the world for the last three-and-a-half years, trying to get the diplomatic ties going. She was seen quite relentless in her work, but has also been criticized about her tours abroad. Many analysts and commentators have compared her diplomatic trips with mere excursions with little diplomatic results for the country. The criticizers, however, perhaps forgot the PR work – which was never done in the history of Bangladesh - she has done.
She has been criticized perhaps because of the current diplomatic gloom over the issues related to Grameen Bank and Professor Yunus, Padma Bridge, manpower export and Rohingyas.
Grameen Bank and Professor Yunus issue has sort of become an ego war between the international community, especially the USA and the present government in Bangladesh. The government’s near-stubborn stance on Grameen Bank is a proof that it has put Professor Yunus as a rival. The Nobel Laureate’s work on micro-credit has been strongly dubbed as a tool for financial torture. Many at the higher echelons of the government aren’t willing to give any credit to Professor Yunus in whatever change he has brought about in the lives of the poor.
The professor, on the other hand, seems quite adamant on making sure that he has his expected control over the bank. Over the years, he sure has made friends and personal connections at the international level and seems more efficient in dealing with them than Bangladesh’s government and its foreign missions are. His friends are now literally pressurizing the government to reduce the gap with the professor. And it the process, the more the government is getting pressures from outside, the angrier it is getting with Dr. Yunus.
While dealing with the Padma Bridge issue, again, the government went into a confrontational position with the World Bank and its associated organizations. The World Bank may be a bank, but a mêlée with this bank has a long-drawn diplomatic repercussions. This bank has a deep interest in looking after the western community. And in spite taking the Padma Bridge corruption issue to a diplomatic level, Bangladesh took an open stance against the bank. For a short while, the government received kudos for taking such a position against such a mighty power as the World Bank, but at the end of the day it had to bow down before international weight.
The entire episode could have been dealt differently. May be by reducing gap with Professor Yunus. And on the other hand, the professor sat quietly, doing nothing on this issue.
On the Rohingya issue, Dhaka became embarrassed and upset over the international community`s pressure to open the border for them. It had urged the international partners to take the issue with Myanmar instead of Bangladesh, as the trouble began in that country and the incidents of human rights violation are taking place there.
US Department of State urged Bangladesh to respect international obligations under the refugee convention and allow the Rohingyas fleeing the ethnic and religious violence in Myanmar into its territory. Dhaka reacted to it described such call as “interference in the sovereignty of Bangladesh”.
The officials said Dhaka has conveyed its message to the international community that it does not want any more Rohingyas to enter the country. But was that enough? Myanmar is a very important country for Bangladesh. The economic and trade ties between Bangladesh and Myanmar got strained due to the Rohingya crisis. Bangladesh’s trade is about 100 million dollars but it exports not more than 3-5 million dollars. It is expected that the bilateral trade between the two countries could be as high as one billion dollars by the year 2013.
This is for the first time Bangladesh has officially refused the Rohingyas to enter. Bangladesh having the right to say “enough is enough”, the international organizations didn’t give Dhaka importance because of its weak position before them. Diplomatic efforts by Bangladesh weren’t there as expected. Bangladesh could have taken this to multilateral level; it could have engaged China and the USA in this, and they could have brought some changes here.
Then the manpower export sector is experiencing a topsy-turvy situation. Bangladesh’s prime labour market is the Middle East. And the Middle East is basically led by the Saudi government. Exporting manpower to Saudi Arab has been suspended for a long time. The other Middle Eastern countries have also slowed down. The UAE has recently imposed informal restrictions on renewal and issuance of work visas to the Bangladeshis.
The UAE, which now hosts estimated one million Bangladeshi workers, second highest number after Saudi Arabia, has been a sustained labour market for the last couple of years despite global economic recession. The government had to act promptly to learn the reasons why such restrictions have been imposed on the Bangladeshi people. It was good to see that the labour minister took the issue seriously.
If we look at the apparel sector, Bangladesh is now an export powerhouse, second only to China in global garment exports. Its factories produce clothing for brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Gap, Calvin Klein and H&M. Many global retailers have sourcing offices in Dhaka. But with “Made in Bangladesh” labels, Bangladesh’s manufacturing formula depends on its having the lowest labour costs in the world, with the minimum wage for garment workers set at roughly 3,500 taka a month. During the past two years, as workers have seen their meager earnings eroded by double-digit inflation, protests and violent clashes with the police have become increasingly common.
For America, labour issues have become a matter of growing concern. In a visit to Dhaka in May, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton raised the issues. In June, Ambassador Dan W. Mozena warned Bangladeshi garment factory owners that any perception of a rollback on labour rights could scare off multinational brands and damage the garment industry. Recently, representatives from 12 major brands and retailers warned the Bangladeshi government to address wage demands, a suggestion rejected by the labour minister. But the minister didn’t think it was a reason to be worry.
Given all these issues, Bangladesh seems to stand in a difficult situation as far as its foreign elations are concerned. And it’s not really clear what the government has been doing in order to really cement its ties with it foreign stakeholders. The foreign minister needs to engage her missions to do the homework on these issues.
The author works as the Input Editor at Ekattor Television and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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